Dr. Earl Wood, a giant in aerospace medicine who helped invent G-suits for pilots while working at the Mayo Hospital and Clinic, died Wednesday in Rochester. He was 97.
Just months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Wood worked with a team of researchers who used recycled materials to build the first human centrifuge in the country. It was an effort to study why pilots lost consciousness when pulling out of a deep dive at high acceleration.
That research led to the first G-suits, which featured arm cuffs and legs cuffs with air-filled bladders and valves to help increase blood flow toward the brain. Fighter pilots wore them to prevent blackouts. For his efforts and contributions to World War II, Wood was given a citation from President Harry Truman, a Mayo spokesman said.
Wood's research using the centrifuge got a second boost when NASA and the American Heart Association enlisted his help in studying G-forces.
"His achievements made manned spaceflight possible and have contributed to American national defense since World War II," said Denis Cortese, Mayo Clinic president and CEO.
A graduate of Mankato High School, Wood earned a bachelor's degree from Macalester College in St. Paul and two master's degrees and a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota.
In his 40-year career at Mayo, Wood was a professor at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine and the Mayo Medical School. He was head of Mayo's cardiovascular laboratory in the 1950s, and was involved in numerous important advances in heart, lung and blood physiology and cardiac catheterization. He was involved in refining of the heart-lung bypass machine, which Mayo used to become the first medical center to perform open heart surgery as a routine procedure. He also helped develop indocyanine green dye, the favored method for measuring heart pump function and diagnosing congenital heart disease that remains in use today, according to an article in Discovery's Edge, Mayo Clinic's online research magazine.
Wood won many awards during his career and wrote more than 700 articles. He and his family were the subject of a short film produced by the Minnesota Historical Society. The film won a 2008 Legacy Award in the Greatest Generation Film Contest.
Wood was also an avid hunter who met yearly with his five brothers for "deer camp" near Duluth, said his son Andy Wood, of Rochester.
"They took it pretty seriously," Andy said. "They had production reports, game plans; he was the coach, and he'd draw out their assignments on a blackboard. He loved the adventure, but not just the thrill, but he liked the journey and getting there."
Wood also liked to fish, especially at a small out-of-the-way lakes and at his favorite hole on Lake Obanga in Ontario, Canada. He also enjoyed international travel and doing projects at the family-owned property on Lake Washington near Mankato. The family bought a former house and hotel and turned it into a retreat center that Wood called "his favorite place on Earth," Andy said.
Wood died of complications from a fractured hip and pneumonia at Charter House, a senior living and care facility. In addition to his son Andy, Wood is survived by sons Guy, of Corvallis, Ore., and Mark, of Fresno, Calif.; daughter Phoebe Busch of Denver, Colo., and four grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. May 9 at Unitarian Universalist Church, 1727 SW. Walden Lane, Rochester.