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Dr. "Q" Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa

The Brains Behind Brain Cancer Research



Laurie DeWitt

Of all the great Cinderella stories, Dr. Alfredo Quiñones -Hinojosa’s tale truly stands out.  His story is heartwarming, heart-wrenching, inspiring, and undeniably remarkable. Like most fairytaleesque stories, this one begins with “Once upon a time …”

The oldest of five children, Dr. Q – as he is now affectionately known – was born in a small village outside Mexicali. In 1987, at the tender age of 19 and with a voracious desire for a better life, young Alfredo crossed the border fence between Mexico and the United States. He did not speak English at the time and had no education to speak of.  Young Alfredo immediately started working on California farms, and he eventually saved enough money to take English lessons. Some 12 years later, Dr. Q graduated from Harvard Medical School, was class valedictorian, and became an American citizen.

Dr. Q’s story does not stop there. In fact, it just gets better.

After completing his residency in neurosurgery at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Q headed to John Hopkins University, where he is now a professor of neurosurgery and oncology. His focus is on the surgical treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors, with an emphasis on motor and speech mapping during surgery. In April, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, hired the accomplished 48-year-old Dr. Q as the William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professor and chairman of neurologic surgery.

Dr. Q’s recruitment to the Mayo Clinic is part of the clinic’s strategy to establish itself as the goto medical center for the Southeast United States and Latin America. In March, Mayo in Jacksonville announced it would begin $100 million in major development projects later this year. That includes the construction of a destination medical building to provide integrated services for complex cancers and for neurologic and neurosurgical care, Dr. Q’s specialties.

Dr. Q’s areas of expertise can be found in the more than 50 book chapters he has authored, the several textbooks on neurosurgical techniques and stem cell biology he has penned, and in his riveting autobiography, Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon, which earned him an International Latino Book Award in 2012.

“I admit I never imagined my life would turn out this way,” Dr. Q told Latino Leaders. “I feel like I am living a dream and sometimes I worry that I will wake up from it. I grew up in extreme poverty. Often we did not even have food to eat. Yet while we were poor in economic means, we had richness in other ways. Our roots are steeped in wonderful history, and our family was tight. My mother was the pillar that kept us all together and connected.”

Dr. Q admits there were dark times, especially when he first arrived in the United States.

But he quickly learned that America offers many opportunities, and with hard work, he could succeed and thrive. That knowledge ignited the passion in him. It did not matter that he was simply picking tomatoes and cotton. He was passionate about being the best worker in the fields. His employers saw that determination and drive. They encouraged him to do more, they believed in him, and they mentored him. While the stakes are much higher now, Dr. Q maintains that this unwavering passion still burns inside him with the same rich intensity.

“I recognize that my story is deemed a kind of rags-to-riches tale, but I live my life in a simple way. And I still have so many dreams left to dream and so much that I still need to do,” he said. “That is what motivates me. I get up every day with a fire in my belly. My patients are always on my mind. They trust me with their lives. That is a great responsibility, as well as a great gift. That is what gives me strength no matter how sore my body is or how tired I am.”

Topping Dr. Q’s tireless to-do list is finding a way to eradicate brain tumors. The brilliant brain surgeon believes we are on the cusp of achieving that milestone. Dr. Q’s voice quickens, his eyes dance, and his excitement is palpable as he speaks of the prospects.

“My research team and I continue to push the frontier of brain surgery,” Dr. Q explained.

“We continue to unravel the great mystery of the human brain. We are constantly learning new things about how the brain develops, how brain cancer migrates, how we can identify the proteins that cause the disease, why they do not die, and how we can one day soon cure the condition. My team and I are indeed pioneers in the space.”

-There's More to the Story: Check it out online and in print!

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