Dr. Virginia Apgar, Creator of the Apgar Score, Saved Countless Babies


Thursday’s <a href=”https://www.google.com/doodles/dr-virginia-apgars-109th-birthday”>Google Doodle honors Virginia Apgar, a doctor whose innovation has saved countless people’s lives.

Dr. Virginia Apgar, who would have been 109 years old today (she died in 1974), was the obstetric anesthetist who developed a test for the health of newborn babies that is still used around the world today.

The Apgar Score’s name is not just that of its creator — each letter refers to a part of the test.

The Apgar test examines:

Appearance (is the newborn a healthy color or blueish?)

Pulse (is it above or below 100 beats per minute, or undetectable?)

Grimace (what response does the baby make when reflexes are stimulated?)

Activity (how much are legs and arms moving?)

Respiration (how strong is the baby’s breathing?)

JAN 26 1962, 3-13-1962; L to R: James P. Eakins and Virginia Apgar; (Photo By Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

JAN 26 1962, 3-13-1962; L to R: James P. Eakins and Virginia Apgar; (Photo By Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Bill Peters Denver Post via Getty Images

The Apgar Score is what’s known as a “backronym” — the words were only chosen after the Dr. Apgar‘s test had gone into practice in 1952, in order to help people remember the elements of the test.

Each of these categories in Dr. Apgar’s test earns the baby between zero and two points, depending on the health of the response. The theoretical maximum is 10, but this is rare. An Apgar Score between 4 and 6 may mean some medical intervention is needed. An Apgar Score below four may mean resuscitation is needed. The Apgar test is conducted a minute after birth, and again four minutes later, in order to judge the effectiveness of intervention.

Dr. Apgar developed the test after noticing that, even though the general U.S. infant mortality rate fell between the 1930s and 1950s, it remained constant for babies within the first day of life.

Apart from developing her famous scoring exercise, Dr. Apgar was a notable advocate for universal vaccination in order to combat the rubella epidemic of the mid-Sixties. In her later years, she worked for March of Dimes, a non-profit founded by President Franklin Roosevelt that initially targeted polio but went on to focus on the prevention of birth defects.

Even before she developed the Apgar Score, Dr. Apgar had already become the first female full professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She received a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University in 1959, and was a director at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which is know known as the March of Dimes.



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