Readers' corner: In review - Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

7 November 2014

Words & Photo: Keegan Longueira

I came across American author and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson's literature a couple of weeks ago while strolling around a local book shop. I had some time to kill, so I decided to spend it sitting on the comfy leather couch in the store and reading the first chapter of the three different Carson books they had available.

Readers' corner: In review - Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

After reading the first chapter of his first book, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, an autobiography, I was highly impressed and hooked. Picking up the next book, Thinking Big, I was once again riveted, as I was with the third, The Big Picture. Having thoroughly enjoyed these three books, I couldn't resist walking out with all of them.

I tackled the first book entitled Gifted Hands two days ago and I'm on the verge of finishing it. In the first thirty-or-so pages I cried like a baby five times. "Surely you didn't really cry?" asked my incredulous girlfriend when we discussed the first book over some sushi at a local restaurant. "Can we not talk about this now, please," I asked, as tears started to well up in my eyes. I had cried, and I'd cried properly.

This book is about Carson's childhood, which was not an easy one as an inner-city kid growing up in Detroit. Ben's parents got divorced when he was 8 and his brother, Curtis, was 10. The family was very poor, so to make ends meet, his mother, Sonya, sometimes took on two or three jobs at a time to provide for her boys. As a result, there were occasions when her boys didn't see her for days at a time.

Both Ben and Curtis experienced difficulty in school. Ben fell to the bottom of his class and became the object of ridicule by his classmates. He also developed a raging temper that translated into violent behavior as a child. One time he tried to hit his mother with a hammer because she disagreed with his choice of clothes. Another time, he inflicted a major head injury on a classmate in a dispute over a locker. In a final incident, Ben nearly stabbed to death a friend after arguing over a choice of radio stations.

Determined to turn her sons around, Sonya limited their TV time to a few select programmes and refused to let them go outside to play until they'd finished their homework. At first, Ben resented the strict regimen, but after several weeks he began to find enjoyment in reading. Being poor, there wasn't much opportunity to go anywhere, but between the covers of a book he could go anyplace, be anybody and do anything. He saw that he could become the scientist or physician he had dreamed about. Within a year, Ben was amazing everyone and went on to graduate with honors from high school. With no money but a goal in firmly mind, he worked his way through Yale University and earned a B.A. degree in psychology. After graduating in 1973, Carson enrolled in the School of Medicine at the University of Michigan, choosing to become a neurosurgeon rather than a psychologist.

Thinking most of the crying was done, I came across a chapter called A Girl Named Maranda. At that point, Ben is the Head Surgeon at John Hopkins Hospital, at the age of just 33, and already rising to be a top neurosurgeon - perhaps one of the greatest that has ever lived. Maranda, aged four and suffering from terrible seizures, had travelled across the country with her parents after being rejected at hundreds of hospitals previously.

"Mr. Freeman [the hospital's head of surgery], you are our last hope," said the little girl's mom. Maranda sat silently listening, hoping not to have one of her seizures that had become a usual part of her day. Without surgery, she would get weaker and die within months.
"Is that right. We may be able to help you," said Mr Freeman.
Mr Freeman then calls Carson in to discuss the girl's case and asks him, "Have you ever heard of a hemispherectomy, I doubt you have Benny?"
"I have, read up about it last week, never done one."
"Is that right, can you do one, it might save this little girl?"
Then Ben says, "It sounds reasonable to me."

Let me put this in perspective. This kind of surgery hasn't been done in 20 years, as previous attempts ended in 95% failure and death rate, and the success of the patients that did survive were severely mentally handicapped. Ben reads up on the surgery and gains more knowledge in the field, calls in the girl's parents and tells them he will do it. He is blatantly honest with them and explains the possible complications that might occur, of which the worst scenario is death.

What an incredible man! So let's break this down. What separates the great from the average?

1) The hunger and will to try

Ben made it his business to educate himself in fields that weren't even in his field of expertise. When an opportunity arose, he read up about the procedure some more and was willing to try. He does not ask, "What if I fail?" Instead, he asks, "What will happen if I don't try?" The answer; she would die anyway.

2) Read, learn, grow and never settle

Ben and his brother had to read two books a week instead of watching TV. Their mom, even though poor and struggling, realised that self betterment was a way to succeed in life. Now, I'm not talking about traditional schooling systems. I'm talking about extra work, reading up on topics you have an interest in.

Says Ben, "Become a professional, read up on any field you love, it will hold you in good stead one day and it will pay off."

3) Courage

Have the courage to be different and always try new things. Be accountable for your actions and go out hard knowing that failure is a step forward. Be willing to try, don't sink behind the possibility of failure because you will never do anything. Stand up, raise your hand and be the one who is willing to put their ego aside and try and possibly fail. For the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear ... ever!

I haven't got to the part about him doing the surgery yet? I just sat down and started writing this article, inspired by his will to try. Now I know he is one of the world's greatest neurosurgeons and fail or succeed in this next surgery, he is still great! I will definitely let you know how the surgery goes!

About the author

Internationally renowned physician Ben Solomon Carson, M.D. is a retired neurosurgeon, an emeritus professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a Washington Times columnist. A pediatric brain surgeon who was the first to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head, he was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, a position he retired from in 2013. In 2008, he was named the inaugural recipient of a professorship in his name, the Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D., and Dr. Evelyn Spiro, R.N., Professor of Pediatric Neurosurgery. Also in 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the land.

Through his philanthropic foundation, the Carson Scholars Fund, he strives to maximize the intellectual potential of every child. An internationally renowned physician, Dr. Carson has also received more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees and dozens of national merit citations, and written over 100 neurosurgical publications. He has also authored six best-selling books published by Zondervan, an international Christian media and publishing company: Gifted Hands, Think Big, The Big Picture, Take the Risk, and America the Beautiful, and One Nation. He is a syndicated columnist and highly sought-after, world-renowned inspirational and motivational speaker.

More information
For more information on Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story and his other fantastic books, visit

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Welcome to the 7 November 2014 issue of DO IT NOW Magazine.