The Big Picture: Getting Perspective on What's Really Important in Lifeby Ben Carson, Gregg Lewis
What drives him? The Big Picture. A vision of something truly worth living for, something that
Dr. Ben Carson is known as the originator of groundbreaking surgical procedures, a doctor who turns impossible hopes into joyous realities. He is known as well as a compassionate humanitarian who reaches beyond corporate boardrooms to touch the lives of inner-city kids.
What drives him? The Big Picture. A vision of something truly worth living for, something that calls forth the best of his amazing talents, energy, and focus.
In The Big Picture, Dr. Carson shares with you the overarching philosophy that has shaped his life, causing him to rise from failure to far-reaching influence. This tape is not about how to succeed—it’s about why to succeed. It’s about broadening your perspectives. It’s about finding a vision for your own life that can reframe your priorities, energize your efforts, and inspire you to make the world a better place.
Drawing on a vast array of experiences in roles ranging from trailblazing surgeon, to public speaker, to husband and family man, Ben Carson shows how you can change your life, your community, your country, even your world, by living in the light of the Big Picture
Author Biography: Dr. Benjamin Carson is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital and the author of two best-selling books, Gifted Hands and Think Big. A widely respected role model, he shares motivational insights with inner-city kids and corporate executives alike. He serves on the corporate boards of Yale University and the Kellogg Company. He lives with his wife, Candy, and three sons in West Friendship, MD.;Gregg Lewis is a freelance writer with 25 years experience in the publishing industry. Gregg Lewis is an award-winning author or co-authorof more than 40 books including Tom Landry: An Autobiography, The Big Picture with Dr. Ben Carson, Forgiving the Dead Man Walking with Debbie Morris, The Healing Connection with Dr. Harold Koenig, and the Game and the Glory with Michelle Akers. Gregg lives with his wife Deborah and their five children in Rome, Georgia.
Author Biography: Dr. Benjamin Carson is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital and the author of two best-selling books, Gifted Hands and Think Big. A widely respected role model, he shares motivational insights with inner-city kids and corporate executives alike. He serves on the corporate boards of Yale University and the Kellogg Company. He lives with his wife, Candy, and three sons in West Friendship, MD.;Gregg Lewis is a freelance writer with 25 years experience in the publishing industry. Gregg Lewis is an award-winning author or co-author of more than 40 books including Tom Landry: An Autobiography, The Big Picture with Dr. Ben Carson, Forgiving the Dead Man Walking with Debbie Morris, The Healing Connection with Dr. Harold Koenig, and the Game and the Glory with Michelle Akers. Gregg lives with his wife Deborah and their five children in Rome, Georgia.
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Read an Excerpt
The Big Picture
Getting Perspective on What's Really Important in Life
By Ben Carson, Gregg Lewis
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2000 Benjamin Carson
All rights reserved.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN TWINS — WHY?
One day in January 1994 I received a long-distance call at work. "I think you need to talk to this gentleman," my office manager told me. So I picked up the phone.
"Dr. Benjamin Carson?" I could not place the accent, but having spent a year living and working in Australia, I immediately recognized the "proper" British influence in the man's careful enunciation.
"This is Dr. Carson," I told him.
"I am so pleased to speak to you, Dr. Carson," the man said. "My name is Dr. Samuel Mokgokong. I am professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of South Africa at Medunsa." Now the accent fit.
"How may I help you?"
Dr. Mokgokong quickly explained that he had under his care a set of South African Siamese twins whose case seemed similar to that of the Binder twins, whom I had helped separate seven years earlier. Because of that successful surgery, Dr. Mokgokong was hoping I would be willing to consult with him and perhaps even participate in the separation of his patients.
I told him that I would be glad to consult with him if he could provide me with copies of his case records. That immediate response was prompted by more than just the usual professional courtesy. My experience with the Binder twins had not only been a major turning point, a defining moment in my professional career, it had been one of the greatest medical challenges I had ever known. At the time I had considered it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And now, seven years later, from a call out of the blue and half a world away, I receive word about a second set of craniopagus Siamese twins. Of course I was interested. But I was not at all sure just how involved I should be or could be in a case as demanding and complex as this on the other side of the world.
Dr. Mokgokong informed me he would be making a trip to the United States within the month and could bring all the necessary records for me to review. I agreed to meet with him at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and we set a tentative date for his visit.
And so the South African neurosurgeon left Johannesburg in the heat of summer in the Southern Hemisphere to make his mid-winter journey to North America. Everything about him — from his deep resonant voice to his quick smile — conveyed such a friendly openness that I couldn't help but like Sam Mokgokong from the start. Slightly balding, about forty, he stood two or three inches short of my six feet yet outweighed me by more than fifty pounds. I could not help thinking that given his build and personality, he would make a wonderful African Santa Claus — all he needed was a white beard.
We struck up an almost immediate friendship. When we began discussing his case, I was soon as impressed with him professionally as I was personally, for he asked the right questions and seemed to have arrived at most of the right conclusions already.
The South African twin sisters did indeed have many similarities with the Binder brothers. Nthabiseng and Mahlatse Makwaeba appeared smaller in the photos than the Binders had been, but they presented about the same degree of attachment at the back of their heads. Using the basic procedures we had followed with the Binder twins and drawing from the experience gained from that surgery, I believed there was a pretty fair chance both little girls could be saved.
Encouraged by my optimism, Sam asked if I would be willing to come to Medunsa to lead the team that would perform the operation. I hadn't been sure how I would react to this invitation when he had first called me. The operation on the Binder twins had taken months of careful planning, and our team had been composed of the best medical personnel Johns Hopkins had to offer, many of whom I had known, worked with, and operated alongside for years. Dr. Mokgokong assured me of the professional caliber of his colleagues, but I knew there was no way I could have the same level of trust operating among strangers with whom I had no personal history — inside or outside of an operating room.
But there was another problem. When we had performed our unprecedented surgery on the Binder twins, Johns Hopkins Hospital, consistently voted the number-one medical facility in America, had placed its resources at our disposal. Would a hospital in Medunsa, South Africa, have what would be needed to pull off such a dangerous procedure? Did they even have all the equipment necessary?
Once again, Sam tried to reassure me. He insisted that whatever equipment they did not have, he would acquire — if only he could make it known that I had agreed to head the operating team. As flattering as that was, I still was not completely convinced.
The more we talked and the harder Sam tried to persuade me, the better I began to understand what was being asked of me. And why. Sam told me how he had first learned of my work. One of his professional mentors back in 1987, a neurosurgeon named Dr. Robert Lipschitz, had cared for a set of Siamese twins around the time the Binder case had received so much publicity. Sam had heard my name at that time because Dr. Lipschitz had called and consulted with me before attempting an operation to separate his patients.
I remembered because Dr. Lipschitz and I had spoken long distance on more than one occasion — both before and after his surgery following which one twin died and the other suffered significant neurological damage.
Sam admitted he had had no idea at the time that the "Dr. Benjamin Carson" his friend and mentor was consulting with "was also a black man." When he had learned of my racial heritage some years later, Sam said he had taken a special interest in me and my career, and he had shortly thereafter read my autobiography, Gifted Hands. He had grown up under apartheid — overcoming astronomical odds to get where he was professionally. So Sam had closely identified with the hardships I had experienced. He told me that he and many of his South African colleagues and students had also read my book and had found great inspiration in my story, my medical achievements, and my example.
I quickly realized my new friend had more than one motive for inviting me to South Africa. Yes, he valued my surgical expertise for his patients' sake. But Sam also was hopeful that a successful separation of the twins would put Medunsa on the medical map. He explained that as the "black medical school" in South Africa, Medunsa had long been the stepchild in the country's university system. Compared to the world-renowned university hospital in Capetown, where Dr. Christiaan Barnard pioneered heart-transplant surgery, Medunsa was unfairly perceived by many as a second-class medical institution where black South Africans trained but had achieved little, if anything, of note.
Sam felt certain that would change with the successful separation of these Siamese twins. "Then everyone in South Africa and around the world will see what we are capable of at Medunsa."
As if that were not enough, Sam admitted he also wanted to bring me to his country as an encouragement to the black South African medical community. He seemed to think just by coming to South Africa I could strike a blow against the oppression of apartheid by serving as a highly visible role model for capable young blacks throughout his country. Perhaps more of them might consider a career in medicine if they could see the example and hear the story of the black American neurosurgeon who had come to Africa in an attempt to make history.
By itself, the medical challenge alone was heavy enough. The risks would be high. The chance of a successful separation of the twins was far from certain. As to all the other, broader goals Sam had in mind, I didn't immediately know what to think.
So I decided to do what I always do when I face a new challenge. Whenever I encounter uncertainty in my professional or personal life, whenever I find myself in need of wisdom (which happens regularly), I pray. I told Sam I would pray about his offer and ask for God's guidance.
Actually, I had been praying about the idea all along. But after meeting Sam, my continued prayers resulted in a strong sense that I should make the trip — that I needed to go. I believed God not only wanted me to get involved in this case but that great things would hap- pen as a result. I had felt such leading in my life before, but this time the sense of direction I received seemed particularly clear and strong. It was convincing enough that I told a man I had known just a few hours I would fly halfway around the world — to a country that officially condoned a societal system bent on oppressing people like me solely on the basis of skin color — and try to help him accomplish something that had never before been successfully done on the continent of Africa.
Once I told Sam I would go, there was not a doubt I had made the right decision. I believed God was in it. And he was going to be with us.
Sam was thrilled. He went home to South Africa with the list of equipment I thought we would need for the operation and with my suggestions for assembling and preparing the fifty- to sixty-person, multidiscipline medical team required. Sam and I talked by phone several times over the next few weeks. My own hectic life pace continued — with my teaching, speaking, and traveling, my weekly clinics, my routine hospital rounds, and twelve-hour days in surgery several times a week. But as plans slowly and surely fell into place in South Africa for a surgery we scheduled to take place in April 1994, I began to anticipate what looked like an incredible second "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.
When I arrived in South Africa, Sam met my flight at the international airport in Johannesburg. He had bad news. The twins were sick. Sam believed their condition serious enough to warrant postponing the surgery.
None of the doctors in Medunsa was sure what was wrong. Based on symptoms, they suspected some sort of viral illness, but their consensus was that we should wait a couple of months to give the girls a chance to regain their strength before subjecting them to the trauma of such a difficult and dangerous surgery.
After examining the Makwaeba twins myself, I concurred. As frustrated as I was not to be able to do the surgery I had come to do, I soon saw the bright side. My short visit would give me the chance to get acquainted with the surgical team and discuss strategies face-to-face, and my presence certainly gave me a far greater sense of the significance this operation had in the hearts and minds of the South African medical community.
I also got to take a firsthand look at the facilities in Medunsa. They were far different from any American medical schools I had visited. The administration offices and most of the classrooms were housed in fairly modern, multifloored buildings of masonry construction. The campus projected an airy, open feel with wide grassy lawns and multiple courtyards around which snaked a maze of interconnected, single-story brick buildings that made up the hospital's various wards and departments.
The openness extended indoors as well. I saw no private rooms. All patients were cared for in large, open-air wards, which housed twenty to thirty beds each. While I had no doubt that the fresh air circulating through the open windows probably did much to facilitate good health, even the gentlest of breezes sometimes carried in whatever was in the air outside — dust, leaves, pollen, and the more-than-occasional flying or crawling bug. Even the Intensive Care Unit was as open as most general hospital wards would be in a typical American hospital.
Another thing struck: the incredible variety of pathology I witnessed in the course of making hospital rounds. In the wards I visited, I saw patients with aneurysms, extensive vascular malformations, a multitude of different tumors and congenital malformations — all just sitting or lying in beds waiting for surgery. I couldn't help thinking what a fabulous experience it would be for any young American surgeon to work in that environment for even a few short months — honing his or her skills, providing much needed health care, and garnering experience which would take a lifetime to accumulate back in the States.
Everywhere I went in that hospital I was impressed by the compassion and competency of the obviously dedicated and well-trained staff. Given the challenges they faced and the limitations they lived with, I was extremely impressed with the caliber of health care provided at Medunsa.
Although I returned home sooner than originally planned, I actually felt a greater sense of confidence for the rescheduled procedure in June. And my focus upon this case seemed to fill my thoughts that first week home even though I was slated to receive a great honor in the U.S. For a number of years the publishers of Essence magazine had annually recognized African-American women they judged to have made a significant and notable contribution to the world. In 1994, for the first time, African-American males would also receive the prestigious Essence Award. I was one of the men chosen to be so honored in a nationally televised ceremony.
My wife, Candy, and I flew to New York for the gala, black-tie affair held in the Paramount Theater. Sitting at the front that night, I looked back at the well-dressed crowd and saw that half of Hollywood had turned out for the occasion. Then, glancing around me at the other honorees — Rev. Jesse Jackson, movie director Spike Lee, actor Denzel Washington, and comedian Eddie Murphy — I could not help feeling strangely out of place and thinking, What in the world am I doing here? I was no famous politician or entertainer. I was just a doctor. True, hundreds of thousands of people had read my autobiography. Many others knew the story of this poor inner-city kid from Detroit, second son of a single mother who had believed in me so much that she gave everything she had in life to love and push me out of the world she knew to pursue a dream that took me first to Yale, then to medical school at the University of Michigan, and finally out into the exciting and rewarding world of medicine. It was also true that I had made a name for myself within my profession when I became Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins by the age of thirty-three. But I also realized that the world of pediatric neurosurgery makes up a tiny part of a medical universe that remains so small it seldom even registers as anything more than a faint flash of light on the great telescope of public attention and scrutiny. I enjoyed neither the reputation nor the recognition of my genuinely famous fellow awardees. What am I doing here?
As I asked myself that question I realized I probably would not have been sitting at that awards ceremony, and none of these people would have come to honor and recognize me that evening, were it not for my involvement in the separation of the Binder twins back in 1987. That one operation, more than any other event in my medical career, had catapulted me to new and surprising prominence in my profession. It had opened doors throughout the world medical community. It had led to professional and personal opportunities I had never dreamed possible and provided me a platform from which to address audiences I would never have been able to reach before.
Looking around that auditorium full of well-dressed celebrities, none of whom knew about my upcoming trip to South Africa, I thought about all the repercussions of the Binder surgery seven years earlier. I wondered, Could something like that be about to happen again? Did God want to use another separation of Siamese twins to go beyond changing my life — beyond changing some piece of medical history — to help change a country?
Excerpted from The Big Picture by Ben Carson, Gregg Lewis. Copyright © 2000 Benjamin Carson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Dr. Ben Carson is professor and director of pediatric neurosurgery at the John Hopkins Medical Institutions and the author of two other best-selling books, GIFTED HANDS and THINK BIG. A widely respected role model, he shares motivational insights with inner-city kids and corporate executives alike. He serves on the corporate boards of Yale University, the Kellogg Company, Costco Wholesale Corp., and American’s Promise among others. He lives with his wife, Candy, and three sons in West Friendship, Maryland.
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This book is exceptional and awesome!! It is my first Ben Carson book, and I can't put it down! I am constantly telling others about it b/c it's contents are so rich, deep and wonderful! I had a brief opportunity to meet Dr. Carson this past February, and he was amazing in person. To read his book only confirms that fact! Dr. Carson is an anointed vessel, chosen and sent by God. Through The Big Picture, he relates to the human experience of so many unlike anyone else. He understands those from the 'littlest' to the greatest positions in life. He is as wise as a serpent, as bold as a lion yet as humble as a lamb. Dr. Carson empowers your thinking through old fashioned principles that once gave humanity a strong foundation. Anyone can benefit from reading this wonderful piece! I appreciate his meaningful sharing.
I just left a convention where I paid $100.00 in part to hear Dr. Carson talk. I never knew who he was when he was introduced as one of the guest speakers. He was powerful! He spoke about the book he helped write, 'Think Big' and about his life experiences. As soon as I left the convention center, I immediately felt I had to come home and log onto the computer to find out anything I could about this man. He is outstanding and I am intrigued by him and his life perceptions. He has principals that most of us have surrendered in our lives and he has motivated me to do the best I can with the time I have left. Thank you.
I think this book is very informal. Dr.Carson really covered a lot of topics in this book. I also think that when people write a book and especially the platform Dr.Carson he had to cover a wide range of topics. Some look up to him as a family man, a top neurosurgeon,and a writer. So I commend him on his effort towards this book.
A must read. This book tells it like it is. Every parent and youngster needs this read.
'The Big Picture' is the most inspiring book I have read to date. I admire Dr. Carson, not only as a great surgeon, but as truly a 'nice' person. He is a gift from God. He is humble and he truly loves God. I am sending my best friends a copy of 'The Big Picture' for Christmas. Thank you and God bless you, Dr. Carson. Samuel Lee, M.D.
I have read Dr. Carson's other books, but none has quite brought things together for me the way this one has. The book puts life into perspective. Plain and simple. It reminds us of what is truly important. I am trying to attend medical school one day and it really made me re-examine my goals once I become a doctor, not just the acquisition of the MD. We tend to focus on one thing at a time and we must also look at the larger pucture. How does it all come together? What kind of mark do you wish to leave on this Earth? I plan to make sure this a book in my son's library.
Ben Carson's life and his mother's persistence on getting the best out of him makes sense in today's 'me' culture. He looks at the issues in the news and suggests solutions that require thought even if you're not sure you agree on specifics. He surely knows how to get to the bottom of an issue and come up with reasonable suggestions so different from the climate in Washington today.