From Illegal Immigrant To Neurosurgeon

By all accounts, this man they call Dr. Q is one of the best up-and-coming neurosurgeons in the country. At 39, he is already director of brain tumor surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Clinically brilliant — relentlessly charming — patients say it's almost like he was born to be a doctor.

If they only knew.

"My very first job was with these very same hands — very same hands that do brain surgery now, back then they pulled weeds," Dr. Q says.

Just 20 years ago, this renowned neurosurgeon was about as anonymous as a human being can get in America — just another illegal immigrant working the fields of California's San Joaquin Valley.

Born Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, he says as kid he dreamed of being a doctor — but from where he grew up outside Mexicali, Mexico, the moon seemed closer than medical school.

Even after he jumped the fence and took up residence in this leaky old trailer — Alfredo says he never set out to become a doctor.

"All that I had on my mind was just to make a little money, send it back to my parents — that's it," he says

But he says he had this passion — this passion to learn everything.

There were a lot of little steps.

He was picking weeds then you got a job on a tractor. Then he was a welder. Then he went to community college and learned English.

"Then University of California-Berkley," Dr. Q explained. At Berkeley he got good grades. "Absolutely, my life began to really take off."

Next he got his U. S. Citizenship and a Harvard Medical School scholarship — graduated Cum Laude — squeezed in time for a family, and is now at John's Hopkins, scrubbing in those same weed-picking hands for a brain surgery.

It's no doubt a remarkable American success story — but the fact that it all started with a fence hopping — makes it a controversial one too.

"The last thing I want is for people to think what I have done is justified," he says. "I think everybody is responsible for their own acts. And the only way I can put it to you is that I'm very thankful for what this country has done for me. And the only thing I can do is try to pay back with every single thing I do."

To that end, Dr. Q spends much of his free time in the lab — trying to find a cure for brain cancer. He also teaches, and of course, saves lives just about everyday.

The latest is, Caron Glassman, a pre-school director. Dr. Q took two tumors out of her head. She's recovering well, but Caron says she may never regain her feelings against illegal immigration.

"If he had not crossed the border I would not be here today," Glassman says. "It's powerful…very powerful."

Still, Dr. Q doesn't usually tell patients his back story. He says didn't come to America to change minds, he didn't even come here fix to them. He says ultimately he came here for the same simple reason everyone does.

"It's human nature to try to find ways to survive. It's human nature, it's not rocket science," he says.

It's not even brain surgery.
  • Christine Lagorio

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