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Main Service Times: Main - 9:30 & 11:00 AM | Evening - 7:00 PM | Arabic - 1:15 PM

Guest Interviews

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Dr. Benjamin Carson

2199 2021-03-25

RAS: My guest today is a gentleman who has been here more than once. I want to welcome back to the Crystal Cathedral a distinguished neurosurgeon, a best-selling author and a world leader in Christian communications. His name is Ben Carson. In 1987, Dr. Carson became the first person to ever successfully separate vertically conjoined twins. Today, Ben remains the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and is here to share his faith and his book, which is entitled, Take the Risk. Please welcome to the Crystal Cathedral, Dr. Ben Carson. 

BC: Thank you.

RAS: Ben, God loves you and so do we.

BC: Well thank you.

RAS: The name of the book is Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose and Live with Acceptable Risk. So, how do you calculate risk? 

BC: Well most people in life don’t accomplish a great deal, simply because they’re afraid to take risk. And then there’s a group of people who never accomplish anything because they take too many of the wrong risk. 

And in thinking about this, it really came about a few years ago, after the case of the Bijani twins, these were the young women from Iran who were joined at the head and their dream was to be separated. And I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about being involved in their case, but it became clear that they were going to have this done in Singapore, whether I helped or not. So I felt obligated to go. 

But I learned a lot from those young women, as I put myself into their shoes, and recognized that they had very, very different aspirations. One wanted to be a journalist and one wanted to be a lawyer. They were very intelligent. They both had college degrees. They both had law degrees even though only one wanted one. So they were extraordinarily intelligent and they said something to me that really struck me. They said, ‘we would rather die than spend another day together.’ Now that seemed kind of harsh but then I put myself into their shoes and I began to recognize why people are willing to take risk. Why are people who are incarcerated for life, or who find themselves in horrible situations, willing to put their lives on the line? 

And I realized that these young women were in that situation. And then I began to extrapolate that into many of the situations that occurred in my own life, and why was I willing to take certain types of risk, certain types of surgical cases where people said to me it’ll never work, don’t bother, don’t waste your time.

But I came upon a relatively simple formulation. I said ask yourself four basic questions: what’s the best thing that happens if I do this, what’s the best thing that happens if I don’t, what’s the worst thing that happens if I do it, what’s the worst thing that happens if I don’t.

RAS: Sure.

BC: Of course in order to answer those questions, it’s vitally important that you know who you are and what your value system is. If the most important thing for you is glory and adoration of mankind, you’re going to answer certain questions differently than if the most important thing for you is to praise the name of the Lord. So you have to clearly know what your value system is. Basically that’s what I go through in this book, helping people get in touch with who they are and asking intelligent questions about how you make things happen in a successful way. 

And really when you stop and think about it, if people weren’t willing to take risk, would we have airplanes today? Would we have lights? Would we have virtually any of the things that give us the ability to be comfortable? Would we even know where certain parts of the world were if there weren’t people who were willing to take a risk and begin to explore areas? 

And I think this is one of the reasons that the good Lord gives us an inquiring mind, and gives us these incredible frontal lobes with the ability to extract information from the past and the present, and to formulate it into a vision. And when we have a vision and we have a dream, then we begin to understand what kinds of risk are worthwhile for us to take.

RAS: The Bible tells us without vision men perish.

BC: That’s correct.

RAS: So tell us the end of the story of these women from Iran. Were they separated?

BC: They were in fact separated, but unfortunately, they did not survive. But there are several cases now that have survived, and what we learned from all of those things goes on to provide us with information, which gives us the ability to do things later on. And you know I think about many of the types of operations that we do now. 

For instance, this past week I did an operation on someone where I had to enter their posterior fossa, (go down to the area where the brain stem was). They had a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. I do that on adult patients. This is something that we can do relatively routinely. It’s a standard neurosurgical procedure that eliminates intense pain of the face. 

Well, when that operation was first envisioned, (posterior fossa operations by Walter Dandy, the famous Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon), the first 13 cases he tried all died. Now can you imagine how discouraging that was? And I frequently wonder what he said to the 14th patient when they asked how did the other 13 do? He probably said no one’s complaining. At any rate, the fact of the matter is he was able to develop that and now it’s something that we can do in a standard way, but it would not have been done if he was not willing to take those risks. 

Now I don’t want anyone to go away with the impression that when you see a risk, you take it. Obviously there is a measured evaluation that goes into which ones are the appropriate risks and what are acceptable risks, and once you know those, you can begin to live a much more comfortable and useful life. 

I also point out the fact that there are so many risks that are overblown in our society. And I don’t want to give away everything that’s in the book, but we spend an enormous amount of money on things that we don’t have to spend money on because the risk is hyped when really it’s not very substantial, so it gives us the ability to really analyze what’s correct for ourselves.

RAS: Well we think about risk, it kind of brings me to the next thing that I noticed in your book and that is your bout with cancer. Tell us about that.

BC: Well, I was one of those people who did everything appropriately. Got my annual physical exam, didn’t defer any part of it, got my PSA’s, but I discovered that all of a sudden, I was looking at the clock when I was in the operating room and I never used to do that. I could do a ten/twelve/fifteen hour operation no problem. But now the clock was important. 

I said to myself something has changed and I went to see the chief of urology. He wanted to repeat my PSA test, and we did. Well it was slightly elevated, so he said I think you should have a prostate biopsy. Now if anybody ever told you a prostate biopsy doesn’t hurt..

RAS: They haven’t had one.

BC: ..it doesn’t hurt them. That’s the part they left out. But after about the sixth core biopsy, you’re saying cancer’s not that bad! 

But at any rate, after that biopsy, I got bad news that not only did I have cancer, but it was a very high grade malignancy. And then I had an MRI to make sure it hadn’t metastasized and unfortunately the MRI looked bad. There were lesions up and down my spine, and interestingly enough, the next day on the radio there was an announcement that I had a glial blastema, a malignant tumor of the brain, and then I had liver cancer, lung cancer, bone cancer; you name it I had it, I was dying, I had died already. One lady called my office and said, “I heard Dr. Carson was dead. I need to speak to him.” It was really pretty amazing.

RAS: I hear you had a wonderful funeral.

BC: That’s right! But there was such an outpouring. I had no idea that so many people cared about me. Well I guess the Lord just got tired of hearing about me because it turns out that the lesions in my spine were a congenital anomaly of the bone, a perfectly benign situation, and I was able to have surgery by Dr. Walsh (who invented the nerve sparing prostatectomy). The cancer was within one millimeter of breaking through but it hadn’t broken through yet. So I’m cured. The Lord is good.

RAS: That is good news. 
BC: But one of the things that that really brought to me was how important our healthcare is. And I talk a lot in this book about measures that we need to take and how we need to understand that the greatest gift we have is our health. You know there are so many people who will spend three/four hundred dollars taking their family to a game, but if someone says you have a twenty dollar co-pay for a physical exam, they just about have a stroke. People tend to forget about the things that are really important and we need to keep those things in perspective. So I think it really puts risk into the right perspective in our lives.

RAS: You have mentioned that you could be the poster child for a child at risk. Can you explain that for us?

BC: Well you know I had all the risk factors that people think about growing up in a single parent home, in dire poverty, in the inner city, a member of a racial minority, poor self-esteem, a violent temper, and certainly if you were to look at all those things, you’d say that guy is not going to amount to anything. And there were a lot of things that happened along the way that involve me coming to an understanding of who I was, and what my value system was. One of those was having a mother who was also willing to take risks. She was willing to be ostracized by her friends who would say to her, you can’t make boys stay in the house and read books. They’ll grow up, they’ll be sissies, they’ll hate you, all that kind of stuff. 

But she really did not listen to those individuals and to her credit, I turned out to be a brain surgeon and my brother turned out to be an engineer. So it clearly was not a fluke. There are definitely ways you can instill these values within a child. I talk a lot in this book about the importance of raising children the right way by giving them the appropriate amount of risk, because you’ve got to realize, young people are risk takers. They like to take risks. However, as their parents, we have the ability to actually control that risk in a way. We have to allow them a certain degree of freedom, but if we do that in a controlled way, they can get all of their need to take the risk out of the way, and you can have your ability to keep them safe. I think that’s what wise parenting is all about.

RAS: You give a lot of credit to your mother, and rightfully so. But are there things that you can say that you specifically did to make the statistics work in your favor?

BC: Yes there are definitely things that I did. One of the things, for instance, was learning how I learned. You know everybody learns in a different way. 

For instance, one of the biggest risks that I took was as a first year medical student. I did poorly on the first set of comprehensive exams so I went to see my counselor. He said you look like an intelligent young man. I bet there are a lot of things you could do outside of medicine. And he encouraged me to drop out of medical school. He said I wasn’t really cut out for medicine and he would even help me to get into another career path. 

But I couldn’t do it. It was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do. I felt a strong calling from God that I was supposed to be in medicine and I said I’m not going to listen to him and I’m going to take this risk. I analyzed and I said to myself, you are not an oral learning student. That is I don’t learn a lot from listening to boring lectures. I’m very visual. So I said I’m going to stop going to those eight hours worth of boring lectures and I’m going to spend that time reading. Now that was a big risk, not going to class. However, when I started doing that, the rest of medical school was a snap. And when I went back to my medical school as a commencement speaker, I was looking for that counselor because I was going to tell him he wasn’t cut out to be a counselor.

RAS: Ben, we want to thank you for writing this book Take the Risks: Learning to Identify, Choose and Live with Acceptable Risk. You have truly had to do that in numerous circumstances and we just want to thank you for being the person you are.

BC: Well thank you. It’s been fun. And I want to thank you and I want to thank your dad for the risks that you took in putting this ministry together. That was quite a story in and of itself.

RAS: Yes it is.

BC: Thank you.

RAS: Ben, God loves you and so do we. Thank you.

BC: Thank you.


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