In 1987, Carson made medical history with an operation to separate a pair of Siamese twins. The Binder twins were born joined at the back of the head. Operations to separate twins joined in this way had always failed, resulting in the death of one or both of the infants. Carson agreed to undertake the operation. A 70-member surgical team, led by Dr. Carson, worked for 22 hours. At the end, the twins were successfully separated and can now survive independently.
Carson's other surgical innovations have included the first intra-uterine procedure to relieve pressure on the brain of a hydrocephalic fetal twin, and a hemispherectomy, in which an infant suffering from uncontrollable seizures has half of its brain removed. This stops the seizures, and the remaining half of the brain actually compensates for the missing hemisphere.
Early on Carson experienced difficulty in school, eventually falling to the bottom of his class. He became the object of name calling and subsequently developed a violent, uncontrollable temper. Determined to turn her son’s life around, Carson’s mother limited his television watching and refused to let him go outside to play until he had finished his homework each day.
She required him to read two library books a week and to give her written reports on his reading, even though, with her own poor education, she could barely read what he had written. Soon Carson was amazing his instructors and classmates with his improvement. "It was at that moment that I realized I wasn't stupid," he recalled later. Carson continued to amaze his classmates with his new found knowledge and within a year he was at the top of his class
What would you say is the most important book you have ever read and how has it influenced your perspective on life?
Dr. Carson: That’s an easy one to answer. That would be the Bible, specifically the book of Proverbs. That’s what I start each day with and end each day with. There is so incredibly much wisdom in there and it was the thing that profoundly changed me as a teenager – when I began to read in the book of Proverbs the description of a fool. It sounded just like me, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a fool. I’m going to stop living the life of a fool. One of the things the book of Proverbs talked about was how fools think they know everything and they don’t listen. And I remember saying to myself at a young age, “You know what? I’m going to listen. I’m really going to listen to my mother. I’m going to listen to what she says.” Reading the Bible has made a huge difference in the way I have lived my life, and it continues to impact me on a daily basis
Dr. Carson: My family life is much easier to balance now because the kids are grown up. (laughter) Before they were grown up I used to take them with me because I was on the road so often. I would take my mother, my kids, my wife; we all traveled as a group and that was my requirement. If I was going someplace my whole family traveled with me. So they had frequent flyer cards for every airline and have been all over the place and that’s great. Last year I did twelve commencements, and my wife went with me to every single one of them. So we still get to have plenty of quality time together. It just has to be a priority for you. My family is a priority for me. I always say where there is a will there is a way. If you want to be with somebody, you will find a way to do it. (laughter) Young people can relate to this when they first fall in love. They’re always trying to figure out how they can be together. “How can we arrange our schedules so that we can be with each other?” In a good family situation that should be a continuing desire.
EDM: You grew up in the projects in a single family home and you were surrounded by all the ingredients for failure, yet you were able to succeed. Talk about the “victim mentality.” Did you ever feel like a victim, and, if so, how did you work your way through that?
Dr. Carson: My mother, who perhaps had the worst life imaginable, had been one of twenty four children, getting married at age thirteen, then finding out her husband was a bigamist, and being left with two small children to raise on her own. But, she never felt sorry for herself. She never developed a victim’s mentality. She always said, “I can deal with this…I can do something about it.” Therefore she never let us develop it either. If we ever came up with an excuse she always had the same response, “Do you have a brain? And if the answer to that is yes, then you could have thought your way out of it!” (laughter)
It doesn’t really matter what anybody else says. It doesn’t really matter what anybody else is doing. When you grow up with a mother like that, it is pretty hard to become a victim and I think that is perhaps one on the greatest things she did for us because if you think you are a victim then you are.