Dr. Virginia Apgar

Many of us have heard of the Apgar score that is given to infants right after they’re born. It’s a way to assess their health. Five different categories are measured: skin color, heart rate, reflexes, muscle tone, and breathing. The higher the score, the healthier the child is.

This test did not exist before 1952. It’s hard to imagine, but before that time, infants were not really closely observed right after birth, and because of that, critical situations were often overlooked. I’m amazed so many people made it to adulthood back then.

A lot of people think the Apgar score got its name from the mnemonic Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration, but no. That came later. The score actually was named after Virginia Apgar, the amazing doctor who invented it.

According to an article entitled “Virginia Apgar, the Woman Whose Name Saves Newborns”, Apgar was known for a whole host of really impressive things besides the Apgar score. She was a doctor who helped establish the medical specialty of anesthesiology, she advanced the study of birth defects. She was the first female full professor at the Division of Anesthesia at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. She became the director and later the vice president of the March of Dimes.

You’d think all of that would have kept her busy enough, but no. She also gardened, took flying lessons, played the violin, and was a fly fisherman. She made stringed instruments by hand. She apparently had a wonderful sense of humor and had the ability to comfortably talk about even the most embarrassing of topics. I think I would have liked her.

I just love hearing about miraculous women. It’s frustrating to me that so many of them tend to fall through the cracks of history. At least Apgar got a postage stamp. But here is a woman who still saves thousands of lives a year, 46 years after her death. We should be taught about her in school. In fact, schools should be named after her.

Three cheers for Dr. Virginia Apgar!

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