Saturday, July 15, 2006

Virginia Apgar!

Most everyone reading this will have had a closer degree of connection with Virginia Apgar than they know. Who is Virginia Apgar, you ask? When born, most of you will have received an Apgar Score in the delivery room. She created it. Did you know?... (grin)

From an NIH press release on the 13th of July:

Papers of Virginia Apgar Added to National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science Web Site

Bethesda, Maryland - The National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science Web site has been enriched by the addition of the papers of Virginia Apgar, M.D., creator of the widely used Apgar Score to evaluate newborns. The Library has collaborated with the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections to digitize her papers and make them widely available. This brings to 18 the number of notable scientists who have personal and professional records included in Profiles. The site is at

In 1949, faced with unacceptably high newborn mortality rates in her hospital's maternity ward, Virginia Apgar (1909-1974), an anesthesiologist, set out to ensure that newborns in distress got the prompt attention they needed. Using the same signs anesthesiologists monitored during and after surgery - heart rate, respiration, reflex irritability, muscle tone, and color - she developed a simple, rapid method for assessing the medical condition of newborn babies. Quickly adopted by obstetric teams, her method (now known as the Apgar Score) reduced infant mortality and laid the foundations of neonatology.

"Dr. Apgar brought enormous intelligence and energy to everything she did. Her newborn scoring method put neonatology on a firm scientific basis, and she made substantial contributions to anesthesiology and the study of birth defects. I personally found her a memorable and inspiring teacher," said Donald A. B. Lindberg, M.D., Director of the National Library of Medicine.

Born on June 7, 1909, in Westfield, New Jersey, Apgar attended Mount Holyoke College, and then received her M.D. from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1933. Although she completed a two-year surgical internship at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, her mentor there discouraged her from pursuing a surgical career, noting that women surgeons rarely achieved financial success. Instead he recommended that she enter anesthesiology, then a new medical specialty. Apgar subsequently trained with anesthesiology pioneer Ralph Waters at the University of Wisconsin, and in 1938 returned to Presbyterian Hospital as the director of a new Division of Anesthesia. She transformed the anesthesia service during the next decade, establishing an anesthesiology education program and replacing nurse-anesthetists with physicians.

In 1949, Apgar was appointed a full professor of anesthesiology and she stepped down as director of the Division of Anesthesia. Free of administrative duties, she continued to teach and devoted more time to research in obstetrical anesthesia. Within three years, she developed the Apgar scoring method, and started using score data from thousands of infants to assess the results of obstetric practices, types of maternal pain relief, and effects of resuscitation.

Apgar was a legendary clinical teacher, well known for her fierce dedication to patients of all ages. She kept basic resuscitation equipment with her at all times, both on and off duty, explaining, "Nobody, but nobody is going to stop breathing on me!"

[ .. Read the full release ... ]
Anthony H. Risser | |

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