Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ben Carson, the Surgeon - Not Quite So Successful?

Yesterday, after my umpteenth post about Ben Carson's fuzzy relationship with the truth, I decided I was done with the subject unless something earth shattering occurred.

This morning, this story popped up on my news feed.  The earth is still in one piece, but I'm experiencing a few personal cracks.   I have to admit, I never questioned Mr. Carson's record as a doctor.  It appeared straight forward and dramatically successful.  It seems, in this case, success is relative.

(Any underlines are mine.)

Republican Presidential candidate, Ben Carson, came under media scrutiny last week over his longstanding claim that he had been offered a 'full scholarship' to West Point, which turned out to have been a mere suggestion that he might qualify for one by persons whose names he could not remember... 
...One highly significant area of Carson's life that has not come under recent media scrutiny is the broad perception that Carson made history in 1987 by successfully separating Siamese twins, Patrick and Benjamin Binder, who were joined at the back of the head.  Book promotion for Carson's autobiography, "Gifted Hands," released on May 24, 1990, described the outcome as follows: 
"In 1987, Dr. Benjamin Carson gained worldwide recognition for his part in the first successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head." 
As recently as November 3 of this year, Emily Cadei wrote a feature story for Newsweek characterizing the 1987 operation as successful.
Writing in his book, "The Big Picture: Getting Perspective on What's Really Important in Life," Carson describes the Binder operation as a key driver of his fame... That book was released on February 1, 1999.  Publishers Weekly, in its review, again calls out the "successful" 1987 operation as a seminal event in Carson's life, writing: "In 1987, pediatric neurosurgeon Carson performed a successful operation that separated two twins born joined at their heads."...
...(But) as early as June 26, 1989 (ten years earlier) the Associated Press had reported on the poor prognosis for the Binder twins, writing:
"'Patrick Binder remains in a vegetative state,' said David Nichols, a Johns Hopkins Children's Center pediatric anesthesiologist who participated in the surgery and now directs the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit. 
'Patrick's brother, Benjamin is improving, but is "clearly not normal and developmentally delayed.'"...
The article continues by describing four other operations Mr. Carson performed to separate twins co-joined at the head.  These operations included 29-year-old Ladan and Laleh Bijani, both of whom had achieved law degrees.  Both women died.
Of the five sets of Siamese twins, or 10 individuals, which Carson surgically attempted to separate, five people died and two were institutionalized with serious neurological damage.  According to the New York Times, those results aren't anymore stellar than the results dating back to the 1920s.  In the Times report on the Bijani adult twins, writers Wayne Arnold and Denise Grady report the following:
"Similar operations have been reported on 30-40 sets of infants and young children since the 1920s, but the death rate has been high, about 50 percent, and many survivors have suffered brain damage."
New York Times OpEd columnist Charles M. Blow (wrote in Monday's) print edition that "Carson may no longer be a practicing physician, but he is a full time profiteer, selling his story in books and speeches and paid handsomely to do so... Media observers seem to me too focused on Ben Carson the candidate.  I remain focused on Ben Carson the enterprise, and apparently, so is he."
This whole article made me sad.  I'm old enough to have a clear memory of the news cycle applauding the separation of the Binder twins.  I remember it as a feel-good, amazing success, first-time-ever story.  So to find out that the results of that famous operation were less than perfect--were not, in fact, even the first such attempt, is sad.

Mr. Carson's history as a successful pediatric surgeon has always seemed so cleanly separate from his self-aggrandizing political persona.  Part of me could not help but wonder why he needed to make himself the hero of every story.  Shouldn't being the hero of the Binder story be enough?  Now I wonder if, by coming so close, he found he couldn't give it up.

Mr. Carson's choice to allow the belief of a happily-ever-after fairy tale to flourish and his choice to profit by identifying himself as the knight-in-shining-armor in the tale is, to me, evidence of just what a weak and needy man Benjamin Carson is--a man for whom adulation is as necessary for life as air and water.  A man who would re-write his life story to include stabbings, redemptions and scholarships.  A man who should never be President.

You can read the Martens' complete article here.

Addendum:  I had a hard time coming up with a title for this post.  Everything seemed too harsh, too critical, too sensational.   I think I was still trying to protect the miraculous surgeon from his own reality.  In the end, I deleted, re-wrote, deleted, re-wrote and ultimately settled on my original.  It was an uncomfortable choice.

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