Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Arthur
L. Dunne, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE KLUCZYNSKI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Claimant, Levolia L. Logan, sought an award of workmen's compensation for injuries purportedly arising out of and in the course of her deceased husband's employment at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). The arbitrator granted the award, and the decision was sustained by the Industrial Commission. On certiorari to the circuit court of Cook County the Commission's decision was set aside as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, and claimant appeals to this court (50 Ill.2d R. 302(a)), principally contending that the circuit court's evidentiary evaluation was erroneous.
Claimant's husband, Herbert Logan, who was 33 years old at the time of his death, worked as a laboratory technician at IIT from 1959 until he was admitted to a hospital on January 10, 1966, where he died about one month later. The autopsy report listed the cause of death as a ruptured aneurysm in the right anterior cerebral artery at its junction with the anterior communicating artery in the circle of Willis.
Bernard Miesczkuc, a microbiologist and a director of certain projects at IIT, testified that Logan worked as his technician beginning in 1960 until his death. During this period a series of experiments were conducted that were designed to investigate the effects of a space-cabin form of environment on animals and their susceptibility to infection at prescribed altitudes. Used in conjunction with the experimentation was a chamber apparatus designed to simulate various altitudes. Miesczkuc described the device in a research paper he co-authored.
"The high altitude environmental chamber used for exposure of the mice to a simulated space cabin environment consists of 2 connected compartments, the main chamber and the air lock, each approximately a 6-foot cube. The main chamber can attain a 20,000-foot altitude in 5 minutes and 150,000 feet in 30 minutes. The temperature range is -10 C to C. The relative humidity is automatically controlled at ambient temperatures in the range of 20% to 90%. Circular chart recorders monitor the altitude and the temperature of the dry bulb and the wet bulb in the main chamber. A communication system consisting of microphones, speakers and amplifiers is provided. The oxygen system consists of a 2-bottle manifold located outside the chamber and connected to the interior of the chamber and the air lock. Standard diluter demand type regulators are used. Analyzers in combination with recording devices continuously monitor the concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the chamber."
In 1961-1962 Miesczkuc stated that experimentation was conducted at a simulated level of 18,000 feet. From 1962 to the spring of 1965 a 35,000-foot altitude was maintained, and in the latter part of 1965 experiments at a 27,000-foot level were conducted in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
During the experiments, Logan and others would regularly go into the inner chamber to care for the animals as well as for technical purposes, although it would appear that Logan's entries during 1964-1965 became less frequent due to the fact that several animal caretakers were hired. Miesczkuc explained that no problem was encountered when entering this chamber if the altitude in the inner chamber was maintained at about 18,000 feet or lower. However, as the simulated altitude was increased, an individual would remain in the air lock or antechamber until the air pressure in this area could be equalized with the lower pressure in the inner chamber by means of a vacuum process. When the air pressure was equalized, the individual would then enter the inner chamber by means of a door between the two areas. In the course of this equalization process and in performing the subsequent work, the person would wear a mask enabling him to breathe pure oxygen. Another party, who was outside the chamber, would monitor the necessary controls. It was testified that a person would usually remain in the antechamber for about one-half hour and then work that same period of time or much longer in the inner chamber. When the work was completed, the person would return to the antechamber and air would be slowly let into this area for 10 minutes or more until the pressure equaled ground-level pressure.
Miesczkuc stated that a series of experiments was completed about December 22, 1965, and a new series did not commence until after Logan's death. He saw Logan on January 10, 1966, operating the chamber controls while someone else was inside. Miesczkuc recalled that the last time Logan entered the chamber was about three weeks prior to his hospitalization.
Several of Logan's co-workers testified as to their experiences with the high-altitude simulator. Catherine Nathan, a microbiologist, said that Logan would remain in the antechamber for 30-45 minutes before entering the inner area. She said that on several occasions during 1963-1964 when they worked together Logan complained of pain in his joints and pressure on his ears. Glen Jedlicka, another scientist, stated that the acclimatization process in the antechamber would take up to an hour. Jedlicka said that he felt nauseated when he was inside the chamber. Miesczkuc testified that he did get a pain in his knee joint at one time and Logan made similar complaints on no more than two occasions.
Claimant testified that her husband had entered the chamber just before Christmas in 1965 and he complained of dizziness and a headache that evening. She further said that her husband had suffered from headaches for some time before his death and that he was exhausted after working in the chamber.
Dr. Donald Atlas, who specialized in cardiology and internal medicine, testified on behalf of claimant. He had no prior experience in high- or low-altitude experiments. This physician explained that an aneurysm is a congenital defect and an ordinary disease of life that is not unusual. This condition is a weakening of the artery which eventually leaks, may then clot, and finally ruptures. He explained that Logan's recent headaches might have indicated that the aneurysm had started to leak.
In response to a hypothetical question, Dr. Atlas expressed the view that the rupture of the aneurysm at this particular time might have been causally related to Logan's employment, which could have contributed to and accelerated the fatal rupture. He based his opinion upon the rapid decrease in atmospheric pressure experienced by Logan while working in the altitude chamber under simulated conditions, and he equated the situation to one who experiences the bends (dysbarism). This condition was most evident by release of nitrogen into tissue located near the knee joints and in the hands that could cause great pain. The rapid decrease in pressure resulting from greater simulated altitudes would also release nitrogen in a gaseous state from the blood. The nitrogen bubbles would further weaken the aneurysm, causing it to deteriorate faster and rupture sooner. Dr. Atlas conceded that he had no experimental basis to substantiate his conclusion as to causal relationship, nor had he any knowledge of documented cases to support his position. And he admitted that the aneurysm could have ruptured naturally. He was unable to answer whether breathing pure oxygen would tend to eliminate nitrogen bubbles that could be caused by a lessening of atmospheric pressure.
Dr. Paul Kelly, a former Air Force flight surgeon and the present medical director of IIT, testified that he performed an annual "high altitude physical" on Logan in April, 1965, and discerned nothing that would have disqualified Logan from participation in the high-altitude experiments. He was of the opinion that no causal relationship existed, because the nitrogen would have been "washed out" of the blood by breathing pure oxygen, thus alleviating the possibility of developing the bends.
Dr. Daniel Ruge, a board-certified neurological surgeon, testified before the Commission. This witness treated Logan at the hospital prior to his death. He said that aneurysms of this nature often were found in men of Logan's age group. He explained that an arterial aneurysm was a defect resulting in a weakness of the outer muscular coat (adventitia) of the arterial wall which probably develops as a person ages. Dr. Ruge refused to express an opinion as to the relationship of Logan's employment to his death, although he did say the formation of the aneurysm was not caused by work in the high-altitude simulator.
Dr. William Buckingham, who specialized in internal medicine, was called by IIT. In response to a hypothetical question, this physician stated that Logan had died as a result of the natural course of a disease and there was no relationship between his death and the work in a high-altitude chamber which could cause an aneurysm to leak. By utilizing the preparatory procedures during the decrease in pressure, Dr. Buckingham was of the opinion that the simulated altutude would not produce, aggravate or cause any damage to a congenital defect in the artery. He said that the artery was improperly formed at birth and blood worked through the weakened portion of ...