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.