FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
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Dr. Wilder Penfield had a passionate desire to unlock the mysteries of the human brain. He revolutionized the techniques of brain surgery and made major discoveries about human cognition, memory and sensation.
Penfield's medical exploration began with the causes and treatment of epilepsy, which was considered incurable. In 1935 he set up the Montréal Neurological Institute, which brought together surgeons and scientists for co-operative projects in the research, diagnosis and surgical treatment of brain disorders.
At the Institute, Penfield perfected his "Montréal Procedure." Applying only a local anaesthetic, he would probe the exposed brain tissue. Guided by the responses of the patient, Penfield would search for the scarred tissue that caused the epilepsy. This procedure also revealed specific functions performed by various unmapped regions of the brain. Penfield discovered the source of memory, tapped the reservoir of long forgotten sensations and emotions, and located the storehouse of dreams.
The delicate and intimate nature of the "Montréal Procedure" required Penfield to gain his patients' absolute trust. According to Phoebe Stanley, a surgical nurse who worked with him for thirteen years, Penfield developed close relationships with his patients and their families.
"That period of my life is full of beautiful and poignant memories of Dr. Penfield and his work," recounts Ms. Stanley. "He was a man of great integrity and humanity."
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