Born: January 26, 1891
Died: April 5, 1976 Place of Birth: Spokane, Washington
Wilder Penfield was one of the world's foremost brain surgeons credited with the surgical treatment of epilepsy.
His deceased father and grandfather both had training and careers in medicine.
He grew up in a single parent family and his mother worked at various jobs to support the family of three children.
Penfield was an above average student and his mother suggested he check into qualifying for a Rhodes Scholarship to attend university.
He found that Princeton University, New Jersey, offered a program where he could earn a Rhodes Scholarship.
Although his major at Princeton was literature, it was here that he developed his interest in medicine.
After graduating from Princeton, Penfield used his Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, United Kingdom, and later took additional studies
at Johns Hopkins, USA, where he obtained his medical degree in 1918.
In the time he was at Oxford and Johns Hopkins, Penfield started to veer toward neurosurgery as he wanted to know more about how the brain functioned.
From 1924 until 1928, he worked at the Laboratory of Neurocytology at Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, where he did his first epilepsy operation.
Penfield reached a point where he felt the need for a team of neurologists, neurosurgeons and neuropathologists who could work together to further brain surgery.
Penfield believed the input from many in various fields would yield better results than had he been working alone on brain study.
For that reason, Wilder Penfield took a position in 1928 at McGill University and, in 1934, became a naturalized Canadian citizen and set up the Montreal Neurological Institute.
His setting up the MNI was motivated by the fact he had to operate on his own sister at the time who had a large brain tumor.
Penfield removed the tumor but could not get all of the cancerous cells and he could see the need for more study in surgical procedures on the brain.
In addition, Penfield served as a neurosurgeon at two Montreal hospitals, the Royal Victoria and the Montreal General.
The MNI concentrated its initial work on dealing with a brain problem known as epilepsy, a disorder in electrical signals causing seizures.
He developed a method of brain surgery called the "Montreal Procedure" whereby a doctor would do actual work on the brain while the patient was conscious.
Over the years, Penfield and the MNI became world famous in doing brain surgery and solved many cases of epilepsy through surgery.
Through his technique of probing the brain, he discovered that certain parts of the brain held memories and, if he stimulated the same part of the brain a second time, the patient would have the exact same memory.
During the last two decades of his life, Penfield wrote several books including The Mystery of the Mind.
In 1994, Wilder Penfield was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
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