By Mercy's Jeff Raymond
Growing up, many kids want to be doctors or astronauts.
Dr. Jim Logan got to practice medicine and work for NASA in a career that took him from Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center to Mercy Hyperbarics and Wound Care in Ada.
The Tulsa native always had an interest in science, even going so far as to take a college-level astronomy course when he was in fifth grade.
“By the time I was about 7 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Logan said.
It was a chance meeting with Wernher von Braun, a German World War II rocket pioneer and designer of the Saturn V Apollo moonship, at a conference on peaceful uses of space that solidified how Logan would combine his interests in biology and astronomy. Von Braun encouraged him to study aerospace medicine. As a NASA space flight surgeon, Logan could be intimately involved with the space program while still practicing medicine.
“If you become an astronaut, you never did anything relevant to medicine,” he said, adding that prospect of spending a week in space wasn’t worth throwing away his medical degree.
During his three decades with NASA, Logan provided clinical care to astronauts, their families, mission-control staff, NASA pilots and senior agency administrators. Taking care of nearly 150 astronauts and their families was a lot like being a family doctor. Logan and his team did just about everything but surgery and obstetrics.
“We had a pretty robust practice down there,” he said.
When the shuttle was in flight, Logan was in mission control sitting directly behind the flight director. Everybody in mission control is an expert in a shuttle subsystem – Logan happened to be an expert not in engineering, but in the astronauts’ bodies and how to ensure their health and safety while in orbit.
“We were there as a member of the flight control team and a constant resource to the flight director,” he recalled.
In the 1980s, several decades after the founding of the space program, NASA began to confront problems that didn’t exist in those early days. Astronauts were getting older and spaceflight was getting longer. A typical shuttle mission could last more than two weeks, and deployments to the International Space Station were measured in months. Without gravity, bones and muscles begin to deteriorate. One of the jobs of the flight surgeon is to convey this information to the engineers
“We were kind of where the rubber met the road,” Logan said.
Logan later founded a telemedicine consulting firm and was a founding board member of the American Telemedicine Association. Then he returned to NASA for another 13 years – this time working extensively with astronauts in a massive pool to train them to spacewalk. If something went wrong, Logan’s team could have the astronauts in a recompression chamber in a little over four minutes.
“We were doing routine training every day that put the crews at risk of decompression sickness and arterial gas emboli,” he said.
It turns out that the physiology of being in a high- or low-pressure environment is similar to that of weightlessness. This piqued Logan’s interest so much that he took his experience to Duke University to complete a fellowship in hyperbaric medicine in 2013.
In addition to treating divers with decompression sickness, hyperbaric chambers can be used for 13 medically approved reasons ranging from diabetic ulcers to delayed effects of radiation therapy used to treat a variety of cancers.
Now that he is at Mercy Hyperbarics and Wound Care in Ada, he has returned home to Oklahoma after a career most people can only dream of.
“I’m one of those real people in life who really, literally, got to live out their fantasy,” he said.