Three generations of thanks

“He saved my mom! Who knew that one day I’d be here?”

My mother, Freda Clavier Edelson, used to tell me about one of her first memories as a very little girl.

It was the late 1920’s.

Children were not allowed in a hospital back then – so she was outside with her aunt and siblings, looking up at the massive Royal Victoria Hospital.

Her mom, Tilly Clavier, was visible from a window.

Her aunt said, “Look up. Your mommy is an angel.“

She looked high up and saw her mom, wearing white and the entire top of her head covered in white bandages.

Tilly threw down chocolates and candies to her three small children.

Life can turn on the dime as they say.

Turning on a dime

Earlier, Tilly was with her children, waiting for a streetcar in Montreal. Her eldest son was playing behind a stopped streetcar, when another suddenly approached and placed the boy in danger. Tilly pushed her eldest son out of harm’s way, but sadly, she was hit. Tilly was rushed to The Royal Victoria Hospital, in mortal danger with a fractured skull.

Her distraught husband Joseph begged the doctor, “You have to save her! How can I live without her? I have three small children!“

The doctor said he would do his best.

That doctor was Wilder Penfield.

Tilly lived! Her body was permanently damaged by the ordeal that left her physically challenged, but her mind was sharp. Her cognitive skills did not suffer in the least.
Tilly was a loving mother and grandmother, who lived to the age of 80. Tilly and her husband Joseph raised three children and were blessed with six grandchildren.

Dr. Penfield was always a very special person to my mother, and me.

This little girl, whose first memories were of her mom at the Royal Victoria Hospital, came back to this same institution some 92 years later, but this time as patient.

Returning to The Neuro

In December of 2019, at the age of 95, my mother Freda suffered a brain aneurysm.

Living independently and fully responsible for herself at 95, Freda woke up one morning with severe headaches and blurred vision.

She called 911, and the Emergency Response team rushed her to the Emergency Department at The Glen Site.

After ruling out a brain tumour, it was determined through a consultation with Dr. Denis Sirhan from The Neuro that she should have an MRI. It confirmed that Freda was suffering from a brain aneurysm and she was transferred to The Neuro’s Stroke Unit.

The medical solution to Freda’s condition involved implanting a stent deep inside Freda’s brain. Dr. Sirhan was not deterred by her advanced years. Her general state of health was good at the time. Dr. Sirhan concluded the surgery was a go!

Freda’s surgery lasted over four hours, under a general anaesthetic. The surgery was performed by a stellar team, led by Drs. Cortez and Paz.

Freda Clavier Edelson by the portrait of Dr. Wilder Penfield at The Neuro.

Dr. Sirhan, Dr. Cortez and Dr. Paz gave my mom another 18 months of life. She was left with no cognitive impairments whatsoever. While recovering, I was able to take mom to the beautiful indoor garden in The Neuro. On our way, I showed her the portrait of Dr. Penfield hanging in the hallway. She was so pleased and said “He saved my mom! Who knew that one day I’d be here?“

That’s when we took her photo with the portrait of Dr. Penfield.

Becoming a great grandmother

Freda had an incredibly positive attitude throughout this ordeal.

Mom contracted COVID-19 in May 2020. She came through that enormous hurdle as well. Again, her positive attitude helped carry the day, along with excellent doctors and medical staff.

Thanks to The Neuro and a very successful brain operation in December of 2019, Freda became a great grandmother in September of 2020 – a healthy great grandson born in California. Because of COVID restrictions, Freda did not get to meet him in person, but loved the photos and Facetime video sessions.

Freda’s time did come. She unfortunately passed away on July 2,2021 from a heart attack. At first the doctors felt she might pull through and given her track record, we were very hopeful. But all good stories come to an end.

Freda was sharp minded and fearless, right to the end. This was a blessing.

We are grateful that she lived to the age of 96.



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The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) is a bilingual academic healthcare institution. We are a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high-quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.



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