Poor 5-Year-Old Who Worked At A Gas Station Is Today America's Top Neurosurgeon

Poor 5-Year-Old Who Worked At A Gas Station Is Today America's Top Neurosurgeon

Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa was impoverished growing up and he was seeking a way to escape it. With determination and hard work, he achieved it.

Image Source: Mayo Clinic

Cover Image Source: Mayo Clinic

It's not every day that we come across a story as inspiring as Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa's, an incredible human who insists, "I just think of myself as a regular guy." The man grew up under extremely harsh conditions in a Mexican village. Having spent his childhood impoverished, Quinones-Hinojosa illegally hopped the fence and entered California with a dream to achieve something great in life. With diligence and perseverance, he landed himself in the Harvard Medical School. After working at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Medicine as a neurosurgeon for years, he is now the Chair of Neurologic Surgery at Mayo Clinic. "I’ve never been one who declines adventure," shared the humble man. 




Truly, Quinones-Hinojosa's life has been one hell of an adventure! Being the oldest of five children, the neurosurgeon knew he had to be the one to save his family from their impoverished state. In his memoir, Becoming Dr. Q, which he co-authored, Quinones-Hinojosa recalled how he would have nightmares as a child about having to save his siblings and mother from floods, fires, and avalanches. This sense of responsibility he had towards his family especially following the death of his baby sister due to colitis sparked his interest in medicine and encouraged him to pursue it. But becoming a doctor was not always what he wanted. At the age of 6, he wished to be an astronaut, reports Fox2 Now




When he was 5, Quinones-Hinojosa worked at a gas station owned by his father. His family used to live in an apartment behind it. Things were fine until the Mexican economy took a hit and subsequently led to the collapse of the business and the livelihood of the family. In order to survive, Quinones-Hinojosa's father had to sell off the gas station for almost no profit. The family used to eat meat once a week, however, that quickly became a luxury after the station was sold. They were forced to survive on flour tortillas and homemade salsa. 




During his short visits to his uncle's place who use to work as a foreman at a ranch in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Quinones-Hinojosa got a glimpse of the United States and what his life could be. Then, at the age of 14, he spent two months pulling weeds and make money and bring it back to his family. "That hard-earned cash proved that people like me were not helpless or powerless," he wrote. As a teenager, he decided to become an elementary school teacher but despite having excellent grades at a teacher-training college, he was assigned positions that were in rural and remote areas. Kids who had wealthy, connected parents were the only ones who got jobs in the city. 




His salary was meager so Quinones-Hinojosa urged his uncle to let him work a short stint at the California ranch to supplement his income. But soon, he began having doubts about his future in teaching and hatched a plan to cross into the United States for a longer stay. It was 1987, a day before his 19th birthday when Quinones-Hinojosa risked arrest, deportation with $65 in his pocket. But he wasn't thinking about the laws, just his determination to escape poverty and provide for his family. Although he was caught the first time, Quinones-Hinojosa did not give up and successfully cross the border in his second attempt. "There’s a lot of sentiment against immigration nowadays, but at the time, when I came, the US welcomed me," he said. "They needed my labor and I needed them." 




He worked several jobs- from farming in fields to a welder for the railroad company. Quinones studied at the San Joaquin Delta College for two years during the day and worked for California Railcar Repair in the afternoon. Soon, he was getting offers from several prestigious universities and he chose the University of California, Berkeley, for its scholarship program and enrolled at 23. Despite discouraging comments from educators about Mexicans not being smart, he continued to strive and enrolled in Harvard Medical School. In 1997, while still being a student, he earned his US citizenship. One Friday night, when the hospital was almost empty, a prominent brain surgeon asked if he wanted to see brain surgery and now, Quinones specializes in it.




"Alfredo is an outstanding surgeon, and takes very humane and very skilled care of patients with brain tumors," said chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine Dr. Henry Brem. "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." Quinones now had a prestigious career but he never forgot his roots. His longtime friend and professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School Edward Kravitz described him as a down-to-earth kind of guy. "He’s easy to talk to. He puts his hand out to shake your hand, and it’s this wonderful warm grip. He’s super friendly. Nothing at all pompous about him," he added. Currently, Quinones is working in Mayo Clinic in Florida, Jacksonville, as chairman of Neurosurgery after leaving Johns Hopkins in 2016.

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