Born to a poor family in rural Colombia, Hernandez used his title to pull his struggling family out of poverty, but others looking to profit used the pint-sized 25-year-old along the way.
His poignant, but torturous journey is the subject of a documentary, "World's Smallest Man," which will air on TLC on Sunday, Sept. 11.
"When I look out my window, I dream that I am tall -- to go to work, as a doctor or a painter, to have a farm and a Jeep," says Hernandez, who speaks in Spanish.
"I asked my mom, Why am I not growing?" he says through a translator in the documentary. "I used to get very angry and bad-tempered because of my problems."
He can do little for himself because of his height, so family members cook for him, bathe him and take him to the toilet.
His rise to fame -- dancing at discos, appearing on television talk shows, even being patronizingly cuddled on the lap of the president of Colombia -- calls into question how world-record competitions can create success in an instant or destroy it.
Wherever he goes, Hernandez is fondled and picked up. He has his own "body guard," a family relative who carries him around to protect him from gawking strangers.
"I am not afraid of kidnapping," said Hernandez's father. "But I am afraid to leave him alone, that people will take him, as if he were a lost toy."
Eventually, Khagendra Thapa Magar, an 18-year-old from Nepal, who is only one inch shorter, took the new Guinness title, and the celebrity calls dwindled.
But Hernandez draws strength from a large, loving family who treat him with respect and support all his dreams to lead a normal life.
One of four brothers, Hernandez weighed only 3 pounds at birth.
"Someone told me the baby had been swapped, and I was upset because the nurses had taken Nino away," said his mother, Noemi Hernandez, who soon realized the infant had the same birthmarks as his father. "Then, I was sure he was mine, but I had doubts."
As a baby, he was in and out of the hospital until his mother decided to abandon painful tests and an offer to be part of a medical study. Colombian doctors now say Hernandez had a thyroid condition that today could have been treated.
"He was always crying and when they took blood, he fainted," she said. "I thought he would die. I had to deal with it all, because my husband works."
The boy flunked out of the third grade and suffered numerous injuries in school. He dropped out altogether as a young teen and stayed at home.
Hernandez was measured and obtained the title of world's smallest man in March 2010 when his family saw that as a way to help them out of poverty. The previous winner, Pingping of China, had died in 2009.
"I felt so happy, I almost cried," says Hernandez. "I am smaller than all the other kids in the world."
Today, Junrey Balawing, 18 and the son of a poor blacksmith in the Philippines, holds that world record at 23.6 inches tall.
The film suggests record holders like Hernandez can be exploited.
Guinness Book of World Records Defends Publication
According to Craig Glenday, editor in chief of the Guinness Book of World Records, less than 5 percent of the publication is based on "human body" sizes.
"It's something we are really conscious of," said Glenday. "We don't want to be seen as exploitive."
"We do it in as sensitive way as possible," he said. "We don't want to expose anything the record holder doesn't want the public to know. Some don't even care to publish the record. We don't seek people out --- they mostly come to us."
In fact, Hernandez approached Guinness about his height. The publication sent someone to his home to verify his size. Glenday says too many people, even doctors, "basically lie" about their measurements.
"Sometimes it seems we are exploiting people because we publish a book that makes money," he said. "But a case inspires doctors to discuss a case -- to see a person in the middle of the jungle who gets all sorts of help and a specialist who want to do what they can for them. To me, that's encouraging."
In the film, when Hernandez develops cataracts, a Colombian medical clinic offers to help him for free. But in the return, they wanted him to help set up a charity for orphans with eye problems and promise him a Jeep if he can meet their fundraising goals.
Hernandez is inspired to help children in need, but his appearances at local events, signing autographs and allowing people to photograph, garner him little money.
Fame also brings fear and unwanted attention. In church, parishioners pull his prominent ears and can't take their hands off the 27-inch man. "I don't like people to touch me or pick me up," says Hernandez.
During half-time at a soccer game among thousands of unruly fans, Hernandez is singled out by the home team's mascot -- a giant stuffed lion -- who taunts the man, even putting his small head in the fake animal's mouth.
Hernandez is clearly terrified, but he knows he must endure the humiliation or he will lose a source of income for the family. The money -- sometimes as little as $85 a day for an appearance at a local shop -- has helped the family move from the high country to settle in the barrios of Bogota.
"People think we make millions, but we don't," says his mother, who uses the profits to run a textile business on the top of their house.
But even that dries up as Hernandez loses his title in October 2010, and he says he feels "empty and alone." But his mother, ever the optimist, urges him not to despair and to send the Nepalese boy a congratulatory gift.
A psychologist warns Hernandez's mother that she has coddled him too much for him to cope in the real world, but she laments, "I will always see Edward as my little one, even though he is 24. He is always my little boy."
The Jeep that so many -- the medical clinic and car dealers -- promised him along the way, never materializes.
Hernandez still dreams of running a farm in the highlands, where he has a large extended family, and marrying a girl he says can be "short or tall."