Johns Hopkins Children’s Center neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D., received the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in a White House ceremony, Thursday, June 19, 2008.
President George W. Bush made the official announcement June 11 and Carson received word while performing a delicate seven-hour surgery.
"The story of our first recipient begins in a poor neighborhood in the heart of Detroit. This was an environment where many young people lost themselves to poverty and crime and violence. For a time, young Ben Carson was headed down that same path. Yet through his reliance on faith and family, he turned his life into a sharply different direction," Bush said at the ceremony. "Today Dr. Carson is one of the world's leading neurosurgeons. He is renowned for his successful efforts to separate conjoined twins and his expertise in controlling brain seizures. He has worked to be a motivating influence on young people. He and his wife Candy have started an organization that offers college scholarships to students across America. The child of Detroit who once saw a grim future became a scholar, a healer, and a leader."
"I am humbled by President Bush's recognition of my work,” says Carson. "I am extremely grateful that he chose to honor me not only for my work as a neurosurgeon, but also for my efforts to improve the lives of America's youth. I am blessed to have the opportunity to pursue both paths, which I consider equally important."
Established by Executive Order 11085 in 1963, the medal may be awarded by the President “to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Carson is renowned for his innovative and groundbreaking neurosurgeries, which include separations of craniopagus (Siamese) twins joined at the head, and hemispherectomies, surgeries in which a portion of the brain is removed to stem intractable seizures in children. At Johns Hopkins, where he has directed pediatric neurosurgery for nearly a quarter of a century, Carson co-directs its Craniofacial Center and is a professor of oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics.
Carson is also a philanthropist, author and motivator of youth to rise above circumstances of upbringing or hardship to lead meaningful, accomplished and compassionate lives. Motivated by a mother who challenged her sons to strive for excellence and insisted on reading over TV-viewing and other idle pursuits, he moved on from a childhood life of poverty in Detroit’s inner city to graduate from Yale University, 1973, and University of Michigan School of Medicine, 1977. He subsequently trained in pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins before joining its faculty.
Carson is president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. He also co-founded Angels of the OR, which provides grants to assist families with non-covered medical care expenses involving both adult and pediatric neurosurgery. Throughout the school year, he shares his inspirational medical and personal story with groups of school children in Johns Hopkins Medicine’s largest lecture hall.
His three books, Gifted Hands, THINK BIG and The Big Picture offer inspiration and insight for leading a successful life. A fourth, Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk, was released in early 2008. Dr. Carson has been married for over 30 years to his wife, Candy, and is the father of three sons. His mother, Sonya Carson, lives with them.
He holds more than 40 honorary doctorate degrees and hundreds of other awards. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the Horatio Alger Society of Distinguished Americans and many other prestigious organizations. He serves on the board of directors of numerous organizations, including the Academy of Achievement, and is an emeritus fellow of the Yale Corporation, the governing body of the Yale University.
In 2004, President Bush appointed him to serve on the President’s Council on Bioethics. That same year, the Library of Congress selected him as one of its 89 “Living Legends” on the occasion of its 200th anniversary. In 2006, the NAACP bestowed upon him its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal.
Joining Dr. Carson in receiving the 2008 awards are Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.; Tom Lantos; General Peter Pace, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.); Donna Edna Shalala; and Laurence H. Silberman.