MILWAUKEE — Quoting the last line of “The Star Spangled Banner,” famed pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Benjamin Carson, told his capacity audience at Wisconsin Right to Life’s Education Fund dinner at the Wisconsin Center last Thursday, “Remember, it is impossible to be free if you are not brave.”
Being brave, according to Carson, 62, who retired last September and is credited with being the firstsurgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, means having the courage to stand up for what one believes.
Many times over the course of his 36-year career during which he operated on 15,000 children, Carson said he felt compelled to do what was right, even if that meant challenging the system.
For example, early in his career, he met a mother, pregnant with twins, yet one was severely hydrocephalic – a congenital condition marked by an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the cerebral ventricles – putting both fetuses at risk. Carson’s solution – operating in-utero, placing a shunt on the hydrocephalic twin — went against conventional medical thinking at the time, but allowed both babies to survive and eventually thrive.
“We have to have the courage to do what is right in all circumstances,” Carson told his audience. “This nation was established on Judeo-Christian values and we have thrown away those morals and principles and we don’t even think about what we say in our own founding documents: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Stressing that all life is precious, Carson said, “God in his wisdom put a baby in the safest place it could be in the womb of a mother, but what secularists have done is create friction and have made it an adversarial thing: if you are for a fetus, you are against women. That is the most absurd thing they could have done.”
As an intern at Johns Hopkins caring for people from around the world, where he later became director of pediatric neurosurgery, Carson said he realized that any of his wealthy patients “would have been willing to give away every penny they had for a clean bill of health. I realized how important life is – everyone’s life – that’s why the most precious thing should be in your hands, not in some government bureaucrat’s hands. It is just the beginning when we give away control of the most important thing we possess to some government bureaucrat.”
Sharing his own “rags to riches” story, Carson told his audience of 1,500 – the largest ever for the WRTL event – that God gives everyone the capacity to dream, “but there were real problems with my realizing my American dream of becoming a physician, not the least that my parents got divorced early on.”
He said it was devastating as a 9-year-old, looking through the ghetto window of his home, thinking he’d likely not live beyond age 25 and would likely suffer a similar fate as two of his cousins who were killed in the rough Detroit streets.
Not only did his mother work two, three jobs at a time to provide for Carson and his brother, but she was thrifty, hating the idea of dependency.
“Occasionally, we’d have to accept food stamps, but not very often,” he said, describing how she’d scour the racks at Goodwill, looking for clothes she could patch, or how she’d offer to pick produce for a local farmer, “three bushels for you, one for us,” she deal with him.
“I’m convinced if my mother was secretary of the Treasury, we would not be in a deficit,” he quipped.
Carson admitted he was a poor student initially, but his mother, “convinced that knowledge would be the key for me to break out of poverty,” turned off the television in their home and had her sons read two books a week, requiring them to turn in written book reports to her.
It wasn’t until years later that Carson learned his mother was unable to read the reports, but even though illiterate herself, she had given to her son a love of reading and a desire to gain knowledge.
“Our founders said the system was dependent on a well-educated and well-informed populace,” said Carson, “because if not, it would be easy to manipulate. Unfortunately we are seeing a lot of that in our culture today.”
Carson encouraged those in attendance to spend 30 minutes daily learning something new, suggesting they will be more capable of discerning the truth, and will be able to filter and analyze what they hear.
Charlie Sykes, WTMJ radio talk show host, introduced Carson, noting the neurosurgeon was famous even before the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, when, seated near President Barack Obama, he shared his views on social issues and the federal government, many of which challenge the president’s approach.
Noting that a school in Milwaukee bears his name and years before the breakfast, a movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., tells Carson’s story, Sykes said the doctor’s journey, his life story is the stuff of an inspiring legend, but it actually happened.
“He was launched into a different part of his life at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast when he did something we talk about, but he did literally, he spoke truth to power and power did not like it at all.”
In his invocation before dinner, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki also praised Carson for being a voice of truth.
“The image of a doctor which is embedded in our psyches is the person who will get up in the middle of the night, brave the elements and arrive at the bedside of his patient, using the art of medicine to give aid and comfort and, if it be God’s will, affect healing.
“Tonight we are privileged to have a doctor, Dr. Ben Carson, who has gotten up in the middle of the night, braved the elements of a secular society and administers his art of medicine to his patient, ‘a society’ that is suffering from a secularism which has destroyed its moral compass and the doctor’s remedy is ‘truth’ administered with compassion. God willing, the patient will be healed,” said the archbishop.
Barbara Lyons, executive director of WRTL, opened the evening sharing some of the highlights of her organization’s year, including the fact that in 2013, 87 abortion clinics closed, including one in Wisconsin. In the state, the number of abortions have fallen from 17,318 in 1987 to 6,927 in 2012, she said. She also noted that states surrounding Wisconsin have far higher abortion rates with more than 41,000 in Illinois, 23,230 in Michigan and 10,701 in Minnesota.
She estimated that 128,011 lives have been saved from abortion in Wisconsin since 1987, due to the efforts of WRTL.