‘I don’t get upset when people say horrible things,’ the HUD secretary says. ‘People don’t like change.’
At the end of our interview last week, I asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for an example of the outside-the-box thinking that served him so well in his prior career as a pioneering neurosurgeon.
“Sure. I started advocating cervicomedullary decompression for achondroplasia,” said Dr. Carson, before shooting me a sly grin and switching to English. Achondroplasia, he explained, is the most common form of dwarfism, and 40 years ago about 7% of people born with the condition died in infancy. “It’s because they had tight, abnormal bone formation at the base of their skull, and that was squeezing the brain stem. And they would just stop breathing. Surgeons would try to go in sometimes and fix it, but it was so tight that they frequently made it worse or killed the patient.”
When he first talked about using a different surgical procedure on children with achondroplasia, at a medical conference in Rome in the mid-1980s, many objected: “The geneticists said, ‘You surgeons. If you would just leave these people alone, only 7% of them would die. But you guys think you can do anything.’ ”
Back home at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, colleagues complained to the hospital president that “Carson’s a wild man. You’ve got to stop him.” But Dr. Carson didn’t stop. “Finally, I had done enough cases where I was able to reveal the data. None of [the patients] had died, and they were doing well. And even though I’d gotten all that pushback, now it’s a standard procedure.”
“I don’t get upset when people say horrible things,” the secretary told me. “I understand human nature. People don’t like change.” A disposition that serves him well these days....
Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.
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