Neurosurgeon's tale of success inspires students

Neighbors

May 12, 1999|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THERE'S NO ROOM for doing things wrong in this profession. Sometimes people do die. But that doesn't keep you from doing your best effort," said Dr. Ben S. Carson Sr., director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He was speaking to about 400 elementary and middle school students, including 40 sixth-graders from North Carroll Middle School, in Baltimore Monday.

Carson gives a half-dozen motivational lectures each year to students at Turner Auditorium on the campus of the hospital.

Our local sixth-grade students had studied Carson's life this year.

They read his biography, saw a play about his life and wrote poems about how he inspires others and sent them to him.

Gina Green, mother of Ryan, arranged for two groups of 40 students from North Carroll Middle to see Carson's lecture. The second group went to Hopkins Monday.

While showing slides of severe cases of brain injury and neural birth defects, tumors and co-joined brains, Carson calmly explained the challenge of developing a method of treatment for each case.

"He taught that everybody has failures," said student Brooke Davis.

"Don't be afraid of failure," Carson said in his lecture. "It's important to learn from that failure, to look back and ask, `Why didn't that work? What can be done next time to make it work?' Formula 409 is so named because the first 408 formulas didn't work."

Carson emphasized that students should always try their best.

He described how his mother, one of 24 children, was married at age 13, and had only a third-grade education. As a fifth-grade youngster, he enjoyed throwing rocks at cars and watching television. He was at the bottom of his class.

"I would distract students in class," Carson said. "I knew I wouldn't do well, and I didn't want them to do well either. I call it the crabs-in-the-barrel phenomenon. If one crab starts to crawl out, the others pull him down. That's negative peer pressure."

Carson credits his mother with turning him around. She turned the television off and made Carson read two books and write about them every week, even though, as he later realized, his mother couldn't read what he had written.

Step by step, his reading, spelling and writing improved until, in seventh grade, he was at the top of his class. The sixth-graders were impressed with the academic results of his mother's support.

"He was the dumbest in his class, and his mother made him work," student Stephanie Albright reflected after the lecture.

"It was a good idea to make him write book reports, because that helps you study," Lauren LeBlanc agreed.

"When he was at the top of the class, he had confidence in himself," said Christina Corsaro.

Carson encouraged the young audience to study science, technology and the medical profession.

"You are the people who have to develop enough smarts so that you can create the things of the future," he said.

"The most sophisticated computer can't hold a candle to your brain," said Carson, and then gave a one-minute list of medical terms describing every muscle and nerve used by a person in the split second between listening to a question and raising his hand.

"It was amazing how the brain compresses everything and how we can understand how one thought travels from the brain to your hand," said student Earl Gray, who has read both of Carson's books and sent copies to him to be autographed.

"He was very intelligent, which was cool. He knew every part of his work."

"I like that he explained not to make fun of the handicapped, because I work with the handicapped at this school," said Jenna Myers, remembering the explanation of spina bifida illustrated in the lecture. Carson told the children that people who use wheelchairs can be great friends.

"If you see someone struggling, help them," Carson said. "Be nice to people who don't look like you."

Jessica's essay featured

Readers of this column last week will recall the inspiring story written by Jessica Swiecicki of her mother's search and reunion with her birth mother. Although Jessica was a semifinalist in a national search for a televised Mother's Day program with Regis and Kathy Lee, she was not chosen.

But she did receive a call Friday afternoon from Maryland Public Television. By 6: 30 p.m., Jessica and her teacher, Deborah Calhoun, arrived at the television studio for a live show at 7 p.m.

Jessica, who is considering a career in journalism, summarized why she wrote her story, and Calhoun described the sixth-grade writing program at North Carroll Middle School that prompted the essay.

The pair had about four minutes on the show.

"The love and respect for her parents came through, especially for such a young writer," Jeff Salkin said during the interview.

Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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