First Coast Connect: From Illegal Immigrant To Brain Surgeon

Sep 20, 2016

He jumped a California border fence in 1987, one day after his 19th birthday. Speaking no English and having no money, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa spent the first years in this country working migrant jobs while raising the money for tuition at Joaquin Delta Community College.

He eventually learned English and became a citizen. He then graduated from the University of California-Berkeley and Harvard Medical School, before later serving as the head of brain surgery at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. Quinones-Hinojosa is now one  of the world’s most renowned neurosurgeons.

Known as Dr. Q, he wrote a memoir of his life in 2012, “Dr Q: My  Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon.”

MORE | Listen to the full interview here

That memoir is the basis for a movie being produced by actor Brad Pitt and Disney. It’s in the writing stage and is currently scheduled for a 2018 release.  

Recently Dr. Q joined the staff at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville as Chairman of Neurologic Surgery.                   

Appearing Tuesday on WJCT’s First Coast Connect, Dr. Q said the movie is about more than his accomplishments.

“The movie is not about me. It’s about the American dream. It’s about the people who have believed in me,” he said. “I believe this movie is about the power of never losing hope.”  

Quinones-Hinojosa said he became interested in brain surgery when he was a resident at Harvard.

“I had an amazing experience with a young man. I saw how this young man who was the first of his family to attend college. He was the first in his family to get an education and he was suddenly attacked by cancer in the brain,” he said.

Quinones-Hinojosa said the disease tore the man’s family apart. He identified with the man and determined he was going to do all he could to treat brain disease.

Quinones-Hinojosa credits his difficult upbringing for his positive outlook.

“That keeps me humble. That keeps me on my feet in trying to improve myself every single day.” he said.      

Producer Kevin Meerschaert can be reached at kmeerschaert@wjct.org, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @KMeerschaertJax