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Creator of the Apgar Score, Dr. Virginia Apgar on Google Doodle

Virginia Apgar’s test has saved millions of babies.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Virginia Apgar noticed something odd. Despite the US infant mortality rate decreasing overall, a high number of infants were still dying within 24 hours of birth.

Part of the problem was that there was no standard of comparison for newborns; babies often went home with undiagnosed problems.
Dr. Virginia Apgar on Google Doodle
Apgar challenged this practice and set the foundations of neonatology when she created the Apgar score in 1952, according to the US National Library of Medicine. The scoring system, which has since saved countless babies, evaluates newborns’ health on five factors: heart rate, respiration, skin color, muscle tone, and reflexes.
The test is conducted in the first five minutes after birth, allowing doctors to determine which babies need immediate care.
Apgar even linked the scores to infant mortality; the lowest-scoring babies had a mortality rate of 14%, compared to 0.13% for the highest-scoring babies.
The Apgar score was quickly adopted by hospitals across the US and is credited for lowering the national infant mortality rate. It later spread worldwide.
Author Rachel Swaby, who wrote about Apgar in her book “Headstrong: 52 Women who Changed Science-and the World,” told CNN in 2015, “It [the Apgar Score] was a huge public health breakthrough.”
“Virginia Apgar had such amazing energy and such an energetic mind.”
Apgar, who died in 1974, had her 109th birthday marked by Google on Thursday. The Google Doodle honored her life and legacy, which were remarkable for her time.
Medical schools in the early 1900s didn’t often accept female students, and separate women’s schools couldn’t provide the same level of education. Only a fraction of the physicians in the US when Apgar entered medical school were women.
Undaunted, she graduated fourth in her class at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, and switched to anesthesiology after her surgical residency. For 11 years she directed the anesthesia division at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, and became the first female full-time professor at Columbia in 1949.
Apgar never lost her ambition even after publishing the Apgar score. She went on to earn a master’s degree in public health and lead the department of congenital defects at the March of Dimes, winning several awards along the way.
She was also fiercely independent until the end; she never married, once saying, “It’s just that I haven’t found a man who can cook.”
Dr. Virginia Apgar on Google Doodle

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?)

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.

She died at the age of 65 from liver cirrhosis, and in 1995 was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Source: edition.cnn.com, fortune.com
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