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SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, who arrived in the United States 20 years ago as an illegal migrant farm worker and now is an award-winning neurosurgeon and oncologist.

‘Terra Firma — A Journey From Migrant Farm Labor to Neurosurgery’ is Quinones-Hinojosa’s personal story of growing up in Mexico, migrating to California’s San Joaquin Valley and embarking on an educational path that eventually took him to Harvard Medical School. The talk is part of UC Davis School of Medicine Dean Claire Pomeroy’s Lecture Series.


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Quinones-Hinojosa arrived in the United States in 1987 at the age of 19, unable to speak English and with less than $5. His first job in America was pulling weeds in tomato and cotton fields in the San Joaquin Valley. One day, as he and his fellow farm workers were toiling in the hot sun, the farm owner’s son came by to inspect the work but did not say a word or otherwise acknowledge the workers.

‘That made me realize how little we immigrants meant as people to those around us,’ said Quinones-Hinojosa.

However, rather than discourage him, the casual indifference of the owner’s son ‘ignited a fire in my belly and started me on the long, hard road that was ahead of me.’

That road first took him to San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton, where he attended classes and led literacy and statistics workshops for fellow immigrants. He then enrolled at UC Berkeley, where he was a lab assistant and a calculus and physics tutor for students from low-income backgrounds.

While at UC Berkeley, Quinones-Hinojosa decided to pursue a career in medicine, inspired by the example of his grandmother, a village healer in his home in Mexico. In 1999, he delivered the commencement address at Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude and became an American citizen.

Quinones-Hinojosa completed a residency in neurosurgery at UC San Francisco and is now an assistant professor of neurosurgery and oncology at Johns Hopkins University, and director of the Brain Tumor Program at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus. He focuses on the surgical treatment of primary and metastatic brain and pituitary tumors, with an emphasis on intraoperative motor and speech mapping.

Quinones-Hinojosa conducts research on the role of stem cells in the origin of brain tumors and the potential role of stem cells in fighting brain cancer, andย  regaining neurological function.

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