Central Casting could not have done better than Dr. Benjamin Carson, at least for the joint teaching/entertaining purposes of "The New Explorers," a PBS science series which entered its second season last month.
Dr. Carson, the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, is the focus of tonight's episode of the series, "The Storm Within" (at 6:30 p.m. on Maryland Public Television, Channels 22 and 67).
While the science topic is a mysterious, 1-in-4-million brain condition called Rasmussen's Syndrome, the doctor's own life story is at least as important to the program.
The series is produced along with videotapes and teaching guides, which are made available to schools for use in the classroom, in an effort to combat the science-knowledge gaps of American students.
Thus tonight's half-hour opens with a group of city kids trooping into the Hopkins hospital on a field trip, where Dr. Carson holds their interest in an auditorium address.
He tells them of his childhood in a Detroit ghetto, and how he was the worst student in the fifth grade -- that is, until his mother sharply limited television viewing at home and demanded her children read two books a week and produce reports about them.
"Knowledge is the key that unlocks all of the doors," Dr. Carson stresses.
The program focuses on a radical operation, a hemispherectomy, which Dr. Carson performs on a red-haired, 10-year-old boy from Georgia. His rare brain ailment has caused up to 100 seizures a day, and previously was treated with two unsuccessful operations.
Interestingly, his parents explain they learned of Dr. Carson's pioneering operations by seeing a television program about one of his earlier patients, a girl named Miranda. And we hear Dr. Carson discussing the girl at his young patient's bedside.
The operation involves the removal of almost one whole side of the boy's brain, and offers "certain risk and uncertain results," says host Bill Kurtis.
The former CBS news correspondent and his camera crew were permitted in the operating theater during the procedure last fall. Potentially squeamish viewers should know the program at times shows what's going on in graphic detail.
In a nice technique, questions -- which viewers may have -- are addressed neatly during the show, often by the boy's parents, whose emotional burden comes across strongly.
How can anyone lose half his brain? What fills the empty cranial space?
Dr. Carson notes a process called "plasticity" occurs only in children and allows the remaining brain cells to "learn" the functions of the section removed. And a fluid fills the space left behind.
In the end, we see the patient slowly progressing in the recovery process. Although likely to be somewhat physically impaired, he is free of his seizures and learning to walk and talk again.