Thirty years ago, Dr. Ben Carson removed a tumor from Christopher Pylant’s brain. Neither man has ever forgotten it.
In nearly all of his speeches on the campaign trail, Ben Carson sketches the following scene: When a four-year-old boy was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1985, doctors across the city of Atlanta told his parents to prepare for the end.
But the couple, armed with what Carson calls “an unshakeable faith,” journeyed with their son from Georgia to Johns Hopkins University’s Pediatric Neurosurgery Center in Baltimore. There, after troubling scans and an unsuccessful operation, even Carson warned the couple there was little hope for their son.
In Carson’s telling, the parents responded firmly, “The Lord is going to heal him, and he’s going to use you to do it.” Carson went on to remove the tumor. He calls the event a “revelation.”
The patient, Christopher Pylant, calls it a “miracle.” Now 34 years old and living in Lakeland, Fla., Pylant has devoted his life to God. A graduate of Southeastern University with a degree in practical theology, he ministers to Christian congregations and youth groups across Florida.
Two years ago, he published a book, along with his late father, Neal Pylant, called A Touch from Heaven: A Little Boy’s Story of Surgery, Heaven and Healing. Carson wrote the foreword.
“I feel very honored that Dr. Carson tells my story,” Pylant says. “I feel blessed to be a part of his life, to have even a small portion of the impact on him that he’s had on me.”
Since his surgery 30 years ago, Pylant says the two have maintained a “great rapport.” When he graduated high school, Pylant says he sent Carson a photograph that Carson later kept on the desk in his office.
Carson talked about Pylant’s story publicly long before he started delivering stump speeches. In his 1996 book Think Big, he recites a thornier version of the tale than the one heard by audiences at venues like the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority Conference this spring and on the soapbox at the Iowa State Fair last month.
He admits to telling the Pylants there was no hope for their son after an initial, unsuccessful attempt to biopsy the tumor. He recalls thinking the couple were “religious fanatics,” and counseling them to resign themselves to the hopelessness of the situation. “Maybe you shouldn’t question the reason for these things,” he told them.
The Pylants urged him to do more scans, and he obliged. That’s when he discovered that the tumor was in fact outside of the brain stem, something he had not initially seen through the gray mass. Armed with the knowledge that the tumor was operable after all, he was able to successfully remove it.