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First Mention: Ben Carson Performs Pediatric Brain Surgery In 1987


Today, Ben Carson announced that he sees no path forward in his race for president. He won't be attending the Republican debate on Thursday. It looks like Carson is effectively ending his campaign, so it seems like a good time for our occasional series...



We've been looking in NPR archives for the first time we referred to or heard the people running for president. The search for Ben Carson brought us to July 5, 1987.

MCEVERS: On that day, we heard a story of a picnic in Baltimore for children who'd gone through a radical brain surgery called a hemispherectomy. Half of their brains had been removed. And our reporter, Phyllis Crockett, introduced us to their surgeon.


PHYLLIS CROCKETT, BYLINE: Dr. Ben Carson' is director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore. He performed the surgery on the children who had gathered for the reunion. He says most were so debilitated that removing the diseased half of their brain was worth the risk. For example, he says, there was Denise Baca, a 12-year-old from New Mexico.

BEN CARSON: She came up to us on a respirator. She had been on a respirator for two or three month, was paralyzed, emaciated - looked like someone from Auschwitz, really - hadn't spoken for months, constant seizures. And now look at her. I mean, it is just - (laughter) words cannot explain, you know, how we feel seeing these children back here like this today.

CORNISH: At the time, Carson was 36 years old. Three years earlier, he had become the youngest head of pediatric neurosurgery in the country.


CROCKETT: Carson, the neurosurgeon who has performed most of these operations in the U.S. in recent years, is a handsome, young black man with a personable manner. He explains, while it may seem impossible, the brain does adapt when half of it is removed.

CARSON: There is a process called plasticity which allows functions to be transferred from one portion of the brain to another in children. So, consequently, we found that we can remove the entire infected hemisphere and realize only the very minimal deficit.

MCEVERS: That was Dr. Ben Carson on NPR in the summer of 1987. Earlier today, he announced he sees no path forward for his presidential campaign.

CORNISH: And we've got a lot more first mentions for the candidates still in the race. Over the next few weeks, you'll hear a profile of Bernie Sanders from 1983 and some tape of Marco Rubio when he was just 25 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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