By Emmanuel Edukugho
Benjamin Carson Snr is an enigma. Born on 18 September, 1951, he was a ghetto kid from Detroit, USA, whose parents separated as both dad and mum could not live together. Although his mother tried to make him understand why daddy had to leave home, her explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to Ben at eight years of age.
However, his mother managed to bring a sense of security to the three-member family. According to him, in one of his famous best selling books – Gifted Hands, he wrote: “While I still missed dad for a long time, I felt a sense of contentment being with just my mother and my brother because we really did have a happy family.”
He revealed that his mother, a young woman with hardly any education, came from a large family and had many things against her. “Yet, she pulled off a miracle in her own life, and helped in ours. I can still hear mother’s voice, no matter how bad things were, saying, Bennie, we’re going to be fine.”
Part of his mother’s strength came from a deep seated faith in God and perhaps just as much from her innate ability to inspire Curtis (brother) and himself to the fact that she meant every word she said.
“We knew we weren’t rich, yet no matter how bad things got for us, we didn’t worry about what we’d have to eat or where we’d live. Our growing up without a father put a heavy burden on my mother. She didn’t complain – at least not to us – and she didn’t feel sorry for herself,” Ben stated in the book.
Quoting Abraham Lincoln who once said, “all that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother,.” Ben went on: “I’m not sure I want to say it quite like that, but my mother, Sonya Carson, was the earliest, strongest, and most impacting force in my life.”
In spite of all odds, Ben went to Yale University in 1969 with 90 percent academic scholarship spending four years in the institution.
Early in life, he believed that he could be a medical doctor, and his mother assured him he would be. He quoted the mother as saying, “If you ask the Lord for something and believe He will do it, then it’ll happen.”
Beginning from elementary school, he was usually at the bottom of the class, often taunted by mates, making him feel bad. Tagged the “dullest kid in the world” by his mates, he later became an intellectual giant, with 50 books to his credit and 60 honorary degrees.
Himself alone is professor of plastic surgery, pediatrics, oncology, orthopedic, among many other areas of specialization.
He is Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital, US, and led a team of medical personnel in a 22-hour surgery to separate, using a complex procedure, Siamese twins co-joined in the head sharing same blood vessels – a feat regarded as impossible. It was recorded as the first in medical history.
The surgery began Saturday, September 5, 1987 at 7.15 am and ended at 5.15 am on Sunday.
Siamese twins are two babies with the same mother, born at the same time, with same part of their bodies joined together.
In this case, the babies, Patrick and Benjamin, born by caesarian section to Theresa and Josef Binder, were joined at the head.
Siamese twins occur once in every 70,000 to 100,000 births. Twins joined at the head occur only once in 2 to 2.5 million births. Siamese twins got their name because of the birthplace (Siam) of Chang and Eng (1811-1874) whom P.T. Barnum exhibited cross America and Europe.
Most Siamese twins die at birth or shortly afterward. As at the time Carson and his team carried out the operation, not more than 50 attempts had previously been made to separate such twins. Less than 10 of the operations resulted in two normal children. Apart from the skill and expertise of the operating surgeons, the success depends largely on how much and what kind of tissue the babies share.
According to Carson’s account, in his book – Gifted Hands, early in her pregnancy, Theresa Binder, 20 years old, and her 36-year-old husband, Josef, were told by the doctor that she was carrying twins. She was therefore filled with joy and thanked God for “this wonderful double gift.”
In anticipation, the couple had bought identical baby clothes, a double cradle and a double baby carriage as they awaited the twins’ arrival. At birth, both babies weighed a total of 8 pounds, 14 ounces, and were joined at the back of the head. Theresa didn’t see them until three days later.
Prior to the birth, during her eight month of pregnancy, she got the terrible news hat she would give birth to Siamese twins. “I wanted to kill them and myself as well,” Theresa said.
She cried: “Oh, my God, this can’t be true! I’m not having twins! I’m having a sick, ugly monster!” She wept almost continuously for the next three days.
To avoid giving birth to the twins, many thoughts cross her mind – including overdosing on sleeping pills to kill the unborn twins and herself. Her thoughts bordered on the bizarre, anything just to have peace and get herself out of the nightmare. She also considered running away, jumping out of the window of a tall building.
But later, Theresa Binder made peace with herself as the reality dawned on her, knowing that she would have to face whatever happened. When she finally saw her babies three days after birth, her husband Josef stood by her side, ready to catch her and carry her from the room if necessary. She stared at the joined babies in front of her.
Carson was recently in Nigeria for the inauguration of the multi-billion naira Ben Carson Medical School of Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State designed to honour him as a role model to students . About 38 pioneer students took oath of matriculation into the College of Medicine administered by the Vice-Chancellor/President, Prof. J.A. Kayode Makinde, to become medical missionaries and put human needs above personal needs, dedicated to saving lives.
Carson, in a medical interaction after the 10th Convocation ceremony of Babcock University, responded to some questions as follows:
What is the solution to the issues of insecurity, good governance and healthcare delivery?
First of all, governments have the same issues wherever you go in the world. There is always the question of unity and how you create this. Fostering unity in every country boils down to government providing the people with some of the basic necessities of life. Also government has to find something that all the people will get their hands behind and push, which brings about unity and national vision.
Same thing happens locally (in Nigeria) where you have warring factions. But if government works on things that they agree about, it better seals their relationship with the people. However, the most pressing needs of the people must be addressed and I suggest the Nigerian government has to start from somewhere and the best place. As regards this naming thing, I pretty good believe that the government has a reason of doing that.
Can you offer an insight into your contributions to Babcock University?
First of all, I expect to see a high quality of students that the school has produced in the past. I am so confident with the leadership of the school, given the reason why I have contributed with my name. What I am contributing is my name.
As the Bible says, a great name is desired more than silver and gold. Knowing the kind of leadership in Babcock, seen the kind of vision and progress recorded in the past three years that I have been here, I feel proud being associated with the university.
What changed your difficult situation in life?
One thing that changed my difficult situation was that I began to read a lot. I began to read about successful people who had made their marks in life. One thing I have discovered is that the success of everyman is in his hands. You alone has to discover what you want to be or where you want to be in future. Decisions that you make, make or mar you. I really spent time in reading recognising the fact that I can change my own difficult situation.
Is there any advice you can give to government?
My advice is that they should concentrate on things that would create value in the life of a large number of people.
The Bible says without knowledge, the people perish. Without understanding or two agreeing, the house can’t stand. Government should stop apportioning blames on others for its problems.
It should stop marking some people as good and others as bad. Rather, it should work towards the welfare of its larger populace who voted them into power. Leadership is ability to lead. Bad leadership is those who divide people. Remember, you are the captain of your ship. If things go wrong, you have only yourself to blame.