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Dr. Q.'s journey to neurosurgery
May 26th, 2013
12:15 PM ET

From migrant worker to neurosurgeon

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

(CNN) - Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa insists, "I just think of myself as a regular guy."

It's an incredible statement from someone who grew up in an impoverished Mexican village, illegally hopped the fence into California, attended Harvard Medical School and now works at Johns Hopkins Medicine as a neurosurgeon.

"I've never been one who declines adventure," he says.

Early life

The oldest of five children, Quinones-Hinojosa as a child had nightmares that he had to save his mother and siblings from fires, floods, avalanches, says his memoir, "Becoming Dr. Q," which he co-authored.

His interest in medicine may have stemmed from this sense of responsibility, along with his baby sister's death from colitis (the memoir is dedicated to her). At 6, though, he wanted to be an astronaut.

His father owned a gas station, and Quinones-Hinojosa worked there at age 5; his family lived in an apartment in the back. But as Mexico's economy took a dive, the business collapsed, along with the family's livelihood. Quinones-Hinojosa's father had to sell it for almost no profit. They later learned that gasoline had been leaking out of holes in the underground tanks.

The family used to eat meat once a week, but that became a luxury of the past. After the station was sold, they had to make do with flour tortillas and homemade salsa, he wrote.

Short visits to California's San Joaquin Valley, where Quinones-Hinojosa's uncle Fausto was a foreman at a ranch, gave Quinones-Hinojosa a glimpse into the United States - and the American dream. At age 14, he spent two months there pulling weeds, making money to bring back to his family.

That hard-earned cash proved that people like me were not helpless or powerless," he wrote.

As a teenager, Quinones-Hinojosa thought he would become an elementary school teacher. Despite his excellent grades at a teacher-training college, however, he was assigned a position in a remote, rural area; only politically-connected, wealthy kids got jobs in cities, he wrote. Quinones-Hinojosa's salary would be paltry.

His uncle agreed to let him work a short stint again at the California ranch to supplement his income, as doubts began to accumulate about his future as a teacher. A plan began to form in his mind.

Life's work: Mom's death inspires doctor's life work

Passage into the United States

Quinones-Hinojosa had $65 in his pocket when, the day before his 19th birthday in 1987, he decided to cross into the United States for a longer stay. He wasn't thinking about laws, he just wanted to escape poverty so that he could go back and feed his family, he says.

Risking arrest, deportation and even death, Quinones-Hinojosa had a plan: He would cross the border in a "Spider-man climb" up an 18-foot-fence, hop over the barbed wire and make a leap into California, he wrote.

Just when he made it across, border agents picked him up and sent him back to Mexico.

FULL STORY
Celebrating Thanksgiving with 'Generation Alzheimer's'
A family member with dementia will have a better Thanksgiving experience in a small-group setting, says expert Laura Wayman.
November 22nd, 2012
12:00 PM ET

Celebrating Thanksgiving with 'Generation Alzheimer's'

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

(CNN) - Judy Warzenski didn't realize how bad her father, Donald's, memory had gotten until he turned to her sister Joyce and asked, "Where's the girl who was sitting next to you?" He did not recognize Joyce as his own daughter.

This Thanksgiving, Warzenski and her younger siblings will eat Thanksgiving dinner with their father in a private dining room at a nursing home in Pennsylvania. Moving her father there in October was an agonizing decision.

"It's really very upsetting to me," said Warzenski, 62, of central New Jersey. "I promised him I would never do this. I promised him I would never put him in a nursing home, which I've come to realize is an unrealistic promise."

Warzenski, who had commented on a previous CNN dementia story, is one of many baby boomers who must watch their loved ones suffer from Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. The condition, which robs people of their memory and thinking skills, necessitates tough decisions about caring for people as their minds slowly slip away.

FULL STORY
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CDC: Breast cancer more deadly in black women
November 14th, 2012
06:18 PM ET

CDC: Breast cancer more deadly in black women

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

(CNN) - While breast cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among American women, the number of patients dying from the disease continues to decline. That's the good news; the bad news is that those statistics do not look so good for African-American women.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that large gaps between black and white women in terms of mortality and stage of diagnosis continue to persist.

Black women still have a disproportionately higher breast cancer death rate – 41% higher than white women. This finding is based on 2005 to 2009 data, showing that even though African-American women have a lower incidence of breast cancer, they are more likely to die of this disease than women in any other racial or ethnic group.

Diagnosis of breast cancer at more aggressive stages is also more common among black women than white women. There were nine more deaths among black women for every 100 breast cancers diagnosed compared to white women.

The report says that mammography may be less frequently used among black women than white women, based on self-reported data. It's also more common for a longer amount of time to pass between mammograms for black women than white women.

Read the full post on CNN's The Chart blog
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Filed under: Black in America • Gender • Health • How we live • Women