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April 16, 2024

Dr. Quinones holds fundraiser at Homewood

By MARTIN KANG | March 7, 2013

“Don’t travel the way where there is path. Travel instead where there is no path, and leave a trail for the others,” Alfredo Quinones said at a fundraising event held on Monday.

Quinones, also known as “Dr. Q”, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology and a renowned author from the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He studies the migration of brain tumor stem cells, and is one of the two neurosurgeons at Hopkins who receive funding from the NIH. He is certainly an accomplished surgeon, but his background is what makes his story even more extraordinary.

Born in a small village in Mexico, Quinones “literally jumped the border fence into the United States” at the age of 19, as described on his website. Arriving in the United States with little money and a barely working knowledge of English, Quinones created his own path with marked determination, from the migrant farms of California to University of California, Berkeley, Harvard Medical School and finally to Hopkins Hospital where he became a neurosurgeon.

As he dedicated his entire career to the advancement of medicine, following the path of every accomplished physician or surgeon, Quinones was taken aside by Michael Lawton, Quinones’ mentor and Professor of Neurological surgery at University of California, San Francisco.

“‘You are academically incredibly successful, and you are seated

in your very nice office’,” Quinones recalled Lawton saying to him, “‘But you have gotten so focused on getting your grants, getting your career … that you have forgotten where you truly came from.’”

“He was telling me something that I didn’t want to hear, “Quinones admitted. “I told him that ‘I’m really not ready for this. I’m barely getting out of the debt of medical school.’”

After much deliberation, however, Quinones made the decision to go back to Mexico.

“I’ve always wanted to take my children back to Mexico, show them where I came from, and do something for the people who are less privileged than I have been. And that’s exactly how the journey began.”

In the summer of 2011, Quinones, along with many other distinguished surgeons, established a mission in the Guadalajara, Mexico to provide care, free of charge, through the Community Neurosurgery project.

“For the first time, we went [to Guadalajara] to provide major complex brain surgeries, so complex that it would be complex here at Johns Hopkins. Otherwise, there is no possible way that any of these patients will be able to afford coming to the United States and pay the large bills to do these surgeries.”

This was a truly challenging mission, as the surgeons had to perform complicated surgeries in a clinical environment that was vastly under-equipped with the necessary surgical instruments.

“We had a case of a lovely young man who had a tumor on the right side, right underneath the motor cortex,” Quinones recalled. “You can do this case two ways. You can just put him to sleep, and go ahead to take the tumor out.”

However, in order to perform this surgery, the surgeons had to know the exact location of the motor cortex. Without sophisticated equipments like functional MRI, Quinones decided that he could not safely operate on the young man while he was under the effects of anesthesia.

“The only way we can do this surgery safely for me, was to keep him awake. That is exactly what we did.”

Only by keeping the patient awake were the surgeons able to find the exact location of the motor cortex of the patient. To do so, the surgeons simply stimulated various parts of the patient’s brain and observed his responses to the stimulations.

The surgery was a success: the patient retained his speech and motor abilities after the tumor was removed. This testifies to the resourcefulness of the surgeons. But there was more to it.

“The beauty to this surgery is that,” Quinones said as he pointed to a video of the patient after the surgery. “He was able to hold his son. This just touches me in ways that I cannot even begin to explain to you.”

“Joe Flacco is about to be the highest paid football player in the world, but I promise you, no matter how much money he makes, or how many touchdowns he scores, he can’t possibly have the feeling that I get when I see this patient doing that,” Quinones added. “To me, no amount of money can give me that feeling.”

The surgeons went back again in the summer 2012 for the second annual Community Neurosurgery project and performed six more complex neurosurgeries in Guadalajara. To their advantage, this time, the project received not only the continued support of the Hopkins Hospital but also many other organizations in the medical industry.

It can be said that Quinones had, once again, created his own path, brought help to the underprivileged in Mexico and left a trail for the others to follow.

Ultimately, Quinones had a far greater ambition.

“We are going find a cure for brain cancer,” Quinones told the undergraduate audience. “And I believe that we can use this as a symbol. One day we can find a cure for brain cancer, and then we can find a cure for any other diseases. And I’m not only talking about biological diseases. I’m talking about diseases in our society, like inequality, and so many other things that affect our world.”

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