By all accounts, the man they call Dr. Q is one of the best up-and-coming neurosurgeons in the country. At 39, he's already director of brain tumor surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
He's clinically brilliant and relentlessly charming — his 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 — the 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, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports for Assignment America.
Born Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, he says that as a kid he dreamed of being a doctor. But even after he jumped the U.S.-Mexico border and took up residence in a leaky old trailer, he says the moon seemed closer than medical school.
"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 — to learn everything.
There were a lot of little steps.
He was picking weeds, then he got a job on a tractor. Then he was a welder. Then he went to community college and learned English.
"Then University of California-Berkeley," Dr. Q says. 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 — he graduated cum laude. He also squeezed in time for a family, and is now at Johns Hopkins, scrubbing those same weed-picking hands before performing brain surgery.
It's no doubt a remarkable American success story. But the fact that it all started with some fence-hopping makes it a controversial one, too.
"The last thing that I want is for people to think what I have done is justified," he says. "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 hopes it makes amends, but admits he'd cross again in a heartbeat.
"It's human nature to try to find ways to survive," he says. "It's human nature, it's not rocket science."
It's not even brain surgery.