Hispanic Heritage Month: Mayo Clinic’s top brain surgeon started as a migrant farmworker

Hispanic Heritage Month

Jacksonville, FL. — Dr. Q thrives in high stress, tense situations.

Like open brain surgery, for instance, where sometimes his patients are awake.

He likes to call his patients heroes.

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“I’m going to be, you know, stimulating the brain, in different parts of the brain, and they’re talking, and they’re moving, and they’re doing all kinds of stuff. That to me is heroic ... and it just inspires me,” said Dr. Q.

But the hands that now move with precision to remove complex brain tumors were the same ones that picked tomatoes and cotton in fields not that long ago.

Before Dr. Q became a doctor, he was Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa a migrant farmworker from Mexico who crossed the border illegally when he was just a teenager.

“I just got in the back of a pickup truck, crossed the border illegally, landed in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, and that’s where I began to do my first summer work,” said Dr. Q.

Even as a 5-year-old boy working at his dad’s small gas station in Palaco, Mexico, he knew that he was meant for something more.

Today, he’s one of the most respected neurosurgeons in the country.

“It was pursuing a dream of a better life, the pursuit of happiness. That is what this land represents to so many people around the world,” said Dr. Q.

He joined Action News Jax’s Lorena Inclán from his office at the Jacksonville campus of Mayo Clinic, where he’s the chair of the neurosurgery department.

Dr. Q said not only does he conduct up to 150 brain surgeries a year, but he also mentors aspiring brain surgeons from at least 12 different countries.

He said he didn’t get to where he is today without the help of his own mentors, so being a mentor, himself, is his way of paying it forward.

“When you hear people, especially in this climate that we’re going through in our country, say that immigrants are taking the place of somebody who was born here in the U.S. What’s your answer to that?” asked Inclán.

“I don’t think that we are taking each other’s spots. I think we take the spots for which we work ... the spots that we deserve, based on our contributions to this country,” said Dr. Q.

Dr. Q tells his story in a book titled “Becoming Dr. Q: My journey from migrant farmworker to brain surgeon,” which won the International Latino Book Award for Best Biography.

But in many ways, his book is still being written, not just in the operating room but in the lab where he and his team are working to find a cure for cancer.

“Probably my greatest contribution is that I give my patients and their families hope,” said Dr. Q.

Sept. 16 is Mexican Independence Day; Dr. Q celebrates this day just like he would a Fourthof July.

He’s proud to be Mexican but he’s equally proud to be a U.S. citizen.

His past, his dreams, and his sacrifices are what made him who he is today.

“Always be proud of who you are, never lose sight of your past, because that will allow you to see light in your future when sometimes people only see darkness,” said Dr. Q.