Google’s Friday Doodle Celebrates 127th Birthday of Legendary Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield 

Google honors famed Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield with a Doodle on his 127th birthday on Friday (Jan. 26) | Penfield is best remembered for his groundbreaking work on epilepsy, hallucinations and déjà vu.

Google’s Friday Doodle Celebrates 127th Birthday of Legendary Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield 

Friday’s Google Doodle commemorates the 127th birth anniversary of Wilder Penfield – the illustrious neurosurgeon who is best remembered for developing the groundbreaking ‘Montreal Procedure’ for the treatment of epilepsy.

While working at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University in the 1930s, Penfield came across an epileptic who complained about smelling burned toast just before she got her seizures.

This gave him the idea that identifying the part of the brain where the hallucinatory smell originated would be the key to treating the condition effectively.

He then operated upon the woman, while she was under local anesthesia and very much conscious, using electrodes to first stimulate parts of her brain asking her what she felt as he went along.

When the woman said she smelled burned toast, Penfield knew he had found the part responsible for her seizures and went on to remove a small portion of tissue from the offending spot. And, just like that, the woman was cured.

Not only did Penfield make significant advances in the treatment of epilepsy, his groundbreaking research also made major contributions towards understanding neurological processes that caused hallucinations, illusions and déjà vu.

Once called “the greatest living Canadian,” for his contributions to neuroscience, Penfield is credited with putting Canada on the global map, in so far as healthcare and science are concerned.

Born in Spokane, Washington, on January 26, 1891, Penfield grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin.

He graduated from Princeton University in 1913 and after a brief stint as the university’s football coach, he joined the Merton College in Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, in 1915.

In 1917, he married Helen Kermott and joined the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

After getting his medical degree in 1918, he served briefly at Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital as a house surgeon, returning to Merton in 1919 to spend two more years completing his studies.

Before relocating to Montreal, Canada, in 1928, Penfield worked at the Neurological Institute of New York where he devoted his time to solo epilepsy surgeries.

Penfield began teaching at the McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, going on to become the city’s first neurosurgeon.

In 1934, two things happened; he became a naturalized Canadian citizen and also got the directorship of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at the McGill University, which he founded together with Dr. William Cone.

While Penfield was not able to save his sister Ruth, who succumbed to brain cancer, he did manage to delay the inevitable, by years, through complex surgery.

In 1950, Penfield was elected the Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in the New Year’s Honors List of 1953, he was appointed to the Order of the Merit.

His contributions to surgical science were honored with the Lister Medal in 1960, the year he retired, and in 1967, he was made the Companion of the Order of Canada.

Penfield spent his later years, in public service, promoting university education. He co-founded the Vanier Institute of the Family “to promote and guide education in the home – man’s first classroom.”

Penfield was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1994, eighteen years after he died of abdominal cancer at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, aged 85. He is buried at the Penfield Family Cemetery in Austin, Manitoba.

Some of the other honors he was recognized with

  • In 1943, Penfield was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).
  • An avenue on the slope of Mount Royal in Montreal was named ‘Avenue du Docteur-Penfield’ in his honor in 1978.
  • The Canadian government designated Penfield a ‘National Historic Person’ in 1988.
  • In 1991, Canada Post released a postage stamp honoring the distinguished surgeon.
  • One of the ten buildings of John Abbot College is called the ‘Penfield Building’ in his honor.
  • The Penfield Children’s Center in Milwaukee is also named in his honor.

These are just a few of the honors and accolades bestowed upon the great man during his life as well as posthumously.

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