Virginia Apgar: Mother of None, but Mother to All

Brooke German

March 28, 2019

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We take a lot of things for granted. We assume we deserve everything the world has to offer and then some. But what we don’t realize in the beginning is that we would have to fight for our first breath and fight for our lives. Yet once we claim that first dose of oxygen, we still have not won the battle. Thankfully, a special woman named Dr. Virginia Apgar found it to be her mission to help us survive at birth.

A divergence from her future studies, Virginia graduated with a degree in zoology. Her eagerness to learn led her to a masters in public health from Johns Hopkins University. One of Virginia’s colleagues took notice of her inclinations and suggested she study anesthesiology. In 1949, Virginia became a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Virginia spent her extra time researching at the Sloane Hospital for Women, which was part of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. In 1953, she introduced a life-changing innovation: the Apgar score. Doctors use this test to score a baby’s health within one minute of birth. The Apgar score charts a baby’s health based on the following parts:

  • Appearance

  • Pulse

  • Grimace

  • Activity

  • Respiration

Doctors score each part on a zero to two scale, with an overall score being from zero to 10. The test can then repeat every five minutes as needed to ensure the survival of the baby.

Throughout the rest of her career, Virginia brought attention to premature birth through her work at March of Dimes, advocated for vaccinations in mothers and their children (primarily during the rubella outbreak), and published over 60 articles and essays.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of Virginia’s story was that she never had children of her own. She devoted her life to the unnamed babies of the world.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Brooke Lazar is WITI's content manager and digital editor. She has a BA in professional and technical writing from Youngstown State University.

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