The American Dream: Dr. Quiñones' Incredible Journey

Dr. Quiñones on his incredible journey from Mexicali, Mexico, to Johns Hopkins.

ByABC News
June 25, 2008, 6:01 PM

June 26, 2008 — -- Today, Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa may be living the American dream.

As one of the nation's leading brain surgeons, he has built an exceptional career at Baltimore's legendary Johns Hopkins Hospital, surgically treating patients with brain tumors and leading cutting-edge research into cures for brain cancer. And he is one of the doctors featured on the new ABC series "Hopkins."

But his journey to the top of the medical profession didn't start out as many might expect. More than 20 years ago, Quiñones-Hinojosa, known to his colleagues now as Dr. Q, was a teenager with few prospects living in Mexicali, Mexico.

Watch the series premiere of "Hopkins" Thursday, June 26, at 10 p.m. ET. CLICK HERE for behind the scenes videos, doctor profiles and patient updates.

Although he always had a strong work ethic, Quiñones-Hinojosa -- who manned the pumps at his father's gas station -- seemed destined for a life of menial labor at low-paying jobs in his hometown. For Quiñones-Hinojosa, growing up was difficult.

"At the age of five I started working in a gas station," he said. "It's hard to believe. ... We didn't have enough money to eat, and everybody had to pitch in."

But Quiñones-Hinojosa knew early on that somehow he was meant for bigger things than the dusty backstreets of Mexicali.

"By the time I was 19, I decided I wanted to go to the U.S. and explore," Quiñones-Hinojosa said. "I was tired of the political oppression and the bifurcation of classes, the oppression of the poor that happens in my country."

Desperate for money, and with his sights set on a brighter future, he scaled a barbed border fence across from Calexico, Calif.

"It was a pretty scary experience," Quiñones-Hinojosa remembered. "It was filled with a real adrenaline rush excitement, but also fear, and, you know, fear gives you extra strength and courage. I got caught and sent back, but I did it again the same night."

He worked illegally for more than a year doing backbreaking work in California's fields, mostly picking tomatoes. Like other migrant workers, he sent his hard-earned cash back to his family in Mexico.

Derided by his fellow workers as a dreamer, Quiñones-Hinojosa enrolled himself in community college to learn English. Before long, he found a professor to mentor him. This professor encouraged Quiñones-Hinojosa to seek a scholarship to attend the University of California, Berkeley.