Hope Katz Gibbs


The Inkandescent Group

Business Publications

Education Publications

Alumni Publications

Association Publications

General Interest



Public Relations / Marketing



Dr. Ben Carson's "Take the Risk" [Costco Connection]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Costco Connection / Author Spotlight
February 2008

How risky is it to separate conjoined twins?

Dr. Ben Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, says he doesn’t think about his work in those terms.

“You don’t go into a field that requires cracking people’s heads open or operating on something as delicate as the spinal cord unless you are comfortable with taking risks,” explains Carson in his latest book, “Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk” (Zondervan, 2008).

Packed with gripping tales about some of the most complicated cases he’s worked on—including trying to separate the 29-year-old Iranian twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani, and successfully performing a risky hemispherectomy (the removal of one-half of the brain) on 4-year-old Maranda Francisco—Carson’s book illustrates how his experiences have enabled him to move forward instead of being paralyzed by fear.

The surgeon realizes that in our security-obsessed culture his attitude is unique, and that’s why he felt compelled to issue a wake-up call.

“I wanted to send a message to Americans that we’ve become a nation of yellow-bellies,” he tells The Connection. “What we’re buying, and what everyone is selling us, is the promise of security. Yet the only thing we can be sure of is that someday every one of us will die.”

Carson’s advice: “Don’t focus on how you might die, but consider how you should live.” Fortunately, he provides a prescription for success. The second half of his book outlines a simple assessment system he started using years ago, called the Best/Worst Analysis (B/WA).

When wrestling with an important decision, ask yourself these four questions:

• What is the best thing that can happen if I do this?
• What is the worst thing that can happen if I do this?
• What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do it?
• What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do it?

“I think through these questions from my point of view, that of the patient, the parents and any other party involved, and by the time I’m done I know that I have considered just
about every possible scenario and outcome,” Carson insists, and in the second half of the book he provides scores of personal risk assessments to help readers to do the same. Of course, anyone who has read his first two books (“Gifted Hands” and “Think Big”) knows Carson’s life has been filled with challenges.


Raised in poverty on the streets of urban Detroit and Boston by a young single mother with little education and no professional training or job skills, Carson says his mother, Sonya Carson, was determined to raise Benjamin and his older brother, Curtis (now an engineer), to be accomplished—and fearless.

It wasn’t easy. Soon after her husband left, she moved the family to Boston to live with her aunt and uncle. The boys attended a church school. When Sonya was finally on her feet and able to move back to Detroit, it was obvious Benjamin had fallen behind academically. Although he had made a promise to himself at the age of 8 that he’d grow up to become a doctor, at 11 he was considered the “dumbest kid in the fifth grade.”

At the risk of alienating her sons, Sonya took away their TV privileges and instructed them to read two books a week, write a report and read it aloud to her (because she couldn’t read herself). When Carson reached seventh grade, he was at the top of nearly every class. In the years that followed he also found ways to outsmart street thugs, his own bad temper and racism.

Carson’s ability to stay focused-and teach himself through books and determination—eventually earned him a full scholarship to West Point, which he turned down to attend Yale University. There, he met his future wife, Candy, and after graduation went on to attend the University of Michigan School of Medicine. Today, at 56, he performs 400 surgeries a year, holds more than 40 honorary doctorate degrees and has been named by the Library of Congress as one of 89 Living Legends (www.loc.gov/aboutlawardsllegends).

“Being successful is simply a matter of making good choices by using our incredibly sophisticated brains,” says Carson, who has been a member of Costco’s board of directors since 1999. “We all have the means to analyze risks and decide which are worth taking and which should be avoided. That’s a simple but powerful prescription for life, love and success in a dangerous world.”

Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia who strives to live fearlessly.


More Costco Connection Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.