From migrant to M.D.

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Tempe surgeon shares life’s journey in new memoir

By Deborah Hilcove

Dr. Edgar H. Hernandez was born in the rural Mexican state of Michoacán, near the Pacific Ocean. As a boy, he watched his father treat common illnesses, as well as the abscessed throats of villagers. He watched his dad suture gashes with catgut and improvised tools. All the while, Edgar dreamed of becoming a doctor—an American doctor who would help people. Hernandez, who now lives in Tempe, has recalled that immigrant’s journey in his book, “On the Border of a Dream: One Mexican Boy’s Journey of Becoming an American Surgeon.” 

The book details the careful preparations his older half-brother, Miguel, made for Edgar’s legal immigration into the United States. Documents were gathered and his grandfather bought new clothes for 9-year-old Edgar. His mother bought him a toothbrush and a comb and reminded him to “take a shower every morning; brush your teeth and comb your hair.”

Like a travelogue, the journey unfolds through the Mexican countryside and the cities of Uruapan, Morelia, Guadalajara, Hermosillo and finally Nogales. Along the way, Edgar learned about telephones and television, as well as popular Mexican movie stars, like Cantinflas. He tasted ice cream and hot chocolate and milk shakes.

Presenting immigration officials with the folder of carefully arranged documents, Miguel and Edgar learned they needed a copy of their father’s death certificate—a process estimated to take several months. After consulting a documentation professional, they decided that Edgar must learn some English, gain the trust of a border official and slip through the border where he would meet his legally documented brother and they would drive to the Valley, returning when the documentation expert received the death certificate.

They would then correct Edgar’s immigration status.

During the illegal interlude, Edgar endured three tense encounters with immigration officials making surprise raids. The last incident produced such terror that the brothers decided to return to Nogales. Although Edgar and his brother faced the convoluted process of documentation, eventually Edgar crossed at Nogales, visa in hand.

Dr. Edgar H. Hernandez has written a book with a unique perspective on immigration.

Soft-spoken with an engaging, faint Spanish accent, Hernandez recalls sitting at his desk with a pen and a stack of yellow legal pads, writing his story “the old-fashioned way,” he says. He consulted often with his brother, Jorge, scribbling during lunches and exchanging phone calls, dredging memories from childhood.

Each chapter begins with a triggering memory, many drawn from Hernandez’s medical practice—a child with a scorpion bite, a young woman killed in a car accident, a male breast cancer patient with Klinefelter syndrome. The memory is followed by a related portion of his journey from childhood poverty to his successful medical career.

After graduating from Phoenix Union High School, Hernandez received his medical degree from the University of Utah College of Medicine and completed his general surgery residency at Maricopa County Center and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center. Recently he joined Ironwood Cancer & Research Center.

He has been honored by the Desert Cancer Foundation of Arizona. In 2011, the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation named him “Man of the Year” for his continued support of uninsured women in need of medical and surgical care for breast disorders.  He is credited with introducing innovative techniques such as oncoplastic surgery, brachytherapy and skinsparing mastectomies to Arizona patients.

 Asked about his recent Commencement address at South Mountain Community College, he says, “I spoke about inspiration. About the spirit to persevere. “

Taking a breath, Hernandez continues, “My goal is to help many people understand the great contribution immigrants have made to this wonderful country-our fractured, wonderful country. I want to meet with women—Melania Trump, the Congressional wives-and talk about these precious children who came with the heartfelt desire to live here. Their moms suffer every day, worried about their children and their future. There are 11 or 12 million immigrants and they are not to be ignored. The only ones to have the sentiment, this glorious sentiment, to do something are the women. Women are the ones to make it happen.”

It will happen. The dreams of Dr. Edgar Hernandez do become reality.

“On the Border of a Dream: One Mexican Boy’s Journey of Becoming an American Surgeon,” by Edgar H. Hernandez, MD, MS, FACS, is published by BookChix Book Publishing, Phoenix, AZ, May, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-9989215-0-1, available through Amazon.

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