On Sept. 6, 1987, Dr. Ben Carson completed a 22-hour pioneering operation that separated 7-month-old West German Siamese twins, who were joined at the back of the head.
Carson led a 70-person team as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and used a first-of-its-kind strategy that involved dropping the twins’ temperatures down to 68 degrees to stop their hearts and bloodflow.
The twins, named Patrick and Benjamin Binder, were considered critical but stable after the surgery, and given a 50-50 chance of survival, according to a United Press International article from 1987.
“We will prefer to say that the operation was a success if the twins can return home healthy,” Dr. Mark Rogers, then-director of pediatric intensive care at Johns Hopkins Hospital, had said.
The boys returned home to Germany several months later, but suffered from neurological issues. While Patrick died later years, Benjamin never learned to speak.
“In a technological ‘Star Wars’ sort of way, the operation was a fantastic success,” Carson told the Associated Press in 1989. “But as far as having normal children, I don’t think it was all that successful.”
Carson went on to participate in four similar surgeries, including one involving a set of conjoined Zambian twins who left the hospital with no neurological issues.
He later detailed the Binder’s surgery in two chapters of his book, “Gifted Hands.”