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Migrant worker who jumped border wall and fought homelessness, is today America's Top neurosurgeon

Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa was 19 when he escaped Mexico to jump over to California. He went on to study at Harvard Medical school.

Migrant worker who jumped border wall and fought homelessness, is today America's Top neurosurgeon
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa/Mayo Clinic

Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa was 19 when he jumped the border wall from Mexico into America. Today, he is one of the top brain surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medicine, reports CNN. Quinones-Hinojosa has come a long way from being an illegal migrant to a respected doctor. His life journey is a lesson for those who aspire to reach great heights. “I’ve never been one who declines adventure,” said Quinones-Hinojosa. He was the oldest of five children and his father owned a gas station in Mexico but after the economy tanked, the family had to sell the gas station for next to nothing and try their luck elsewhere. Those were hard times. The family had to make do with just flour tortillas and homemade salsa. Meat was a rarity at home and the family had it once a week. He often had nightmares of saving his mother and siblings from fires, floods, avalanches.


One of his first jobs came when he was just 14. He brought home money from pulling weeds and it gave him a sense of power and responsibility. “That hard-earned cash proved that people like me were not helpless or powerless,” he wrote in his memoir titled Becoming Dr. Q. He had excellent grades at a teacher-training college but was posted in a rural area and his salary hardly sufficed. He started working with his uncle at a California ranch to make extra money. That's where he decided to cross the border. A day before his 19th birthday, in 1987, Quinones-Hinojosa, with just $65 in his pocket, jumped the border wall into the United States. He wanted to escape poverty and find a way to provide for his family. He made the "Spider-man climb” over an 18-foot-fence, hopped over barbed wire to escape to California. He wouldn't make it through. Border agents picked him up and sent him back.



Quinones-Hinojosa wasn't to be deterred. He made the wall jump again, from the same location, an hour later. This time he gave the guards the slip. He lived in a trailer and helped at a field in the San Joaquin Valley. “There’s a lot of sentiment against immigration nowadays, but at the time, when I came, the U.S. welcomed me,” said Quinones. “They needed my labor and I needed them." Immigration and Naturalization Service agents often picked up workers but somehow he escaped their eye. He switched jobs, becoming a welder for a railroad company. He got an education and completed two years at San Joaquin Delta College. At the time, he would attend college, while continuing to work part-time at California Railcar Repair in the afternoon. He would go on to study at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard medical school. They doubted his nationality because of his grades. “You can’t be from Mexico. You’re too smart to be from Mexico,” a teaching assistant once told him. He never said anything in return and focused his energy on his goals.


At medical school, he earned the nickname Dr. Q. It stuck and to date, his patients refer to him that way. “Alfredo is an outstanding surgeon, and takes very humane and very skilled care of patients with brain tumors,” said Dr. Henry Brem, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “His mission is to not only deliver the best possible care but also to do cutting edge research in order to better understand the diseases and to ultimately find better therapies for those diseases.” Today he specializes in removing tumors in the brain.

When asked if his life was a reflection of the American dream, he said it wasn't material things like a car or a big house that defined it. Rather, it was "the ability to give back when you are so privileged to be able to do what I do." It's fair to say he has achieved the dream.

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