The life story of Virginia Apgar, a professor, musician and pilot who saved millions of children
Every woman who gave birth in the maternity hospital knows about the existence of the "Apgar scale". In the world, the indicator on this scale is considered one of the most important, along with the height and weight of the baby. These are two figures describing the condition of the newborn at 1 and 5 minutes after birth. If they are more than 7, then everything is fine, and if they are less, then there is a serious reason for concern and medical intervention. Who developed this system that saves millions of children's lives every year?
The Apgar scale is the brainchild of a wonderful woman named Virginia Apgar, who was a brilliant medic, a brave pilot, a wonderful musician and a jack of all trades. It is difficult to name what was beyond the power of this man-Virginia achieved success in any business that she undertook.
Virginia Apgar, 1936
Virginia Apgar was born on June 7, 1900 in the small provincial town of Westfield in the state of New Jersey, USA. She was the third, youngest child in a very poor family, barely making ends meet. Despite the constant lack of money, the girl's father was seriously engaged in invention and science — he set up a workshop and a chemical laboratory in the basement under the house, and there was a homemade telescope in the attic.
In addition, Charles Emory Apgar was a talented musician and even organized a house orchestra. Virginia played the violin in it from the age of five and she really liked it. The children in the family were well versed in astronomy and chemistry, and self-development was considered one of the main priorities of life.
The difficult life of an unusual family was complicated by the fact that both of Virginia's brothers were seriously ill. The elder, who was suffering from incurable tuberculosis at that time, died, which was a serious shock for the girl. Then Virginia firmly decided to become a doctor and devote her life to saving human lives.
Virginia with her brother Lawrence, 1905
But it was not easy to enter a medical university without money, so after school, Virginia continued her studies at the college with a degree in zoology. The ability to play the violin was very useful to her, since young talents were given a small scholarship. Thanks to her, Apgar was able to pay for training and with difficulty, but to provide herself with the most necessary things. During her studies, the girl was forced to constantly look for part-time jobs and took on a variety of professions.
Virginia's first place of work was the surgical department of the hospital, where she was taken as an intern. Despite the impeccable work, the young woman had no chance to make a career in this field — surgery was then a purely male specialty. Therefore, Apgar, forced to pay off her debts, agreed to the proposal of the chief surgeon of the State of Columbia, Alan Whipple, and switched to anesthesiology.
Virginia had to literally raise anesthesiology from scratch — this branch of medicine in the United States was in decline and it reached the point that it was trusted by nurses. There were not only experts and decent teachers in the country, but even textbooks on anesthesiology, so Apgar had a hard time.
But a woman who was used to receiving only a positive result, achieved her goal and in 1938, Virginia Apgar headed the country's first department of anesthesiology, where she was the only employee. It took another 9 years for a purposeful American woman to become the first female professor in Columbia University College.
In the 1940s, Apgar began studying anesthesia for the condition of women in labor and newborns — in those years it was a very popular topic. As expected, Professor Virginia Apgar went beyond the most inquisitive of her colleagues and developed her own system that allows assessing the effect of anesthesia on a child. The Apgar scale for assessing the condition of a newborn was first presented in 1952 at the Congress of anesthesiologists.
Virginia named five key criteria for assessing the health of a child in the first minutes of life by the first letters of her last name Apgar:
Each item can be evaluated with a maximum of 2 points, so 10 is the best indicator. The condition of the newborn is monitored at 1 and 5 minutes of life, so his mother is always called two digits. Indicator 7 is very good, and 3 corresponds to a critical condition in which urgent resuscitation measures are needed.
In parallel, Apgar dealt with the problems of vaccination against rubella. This infectious disease, which is not too dangerous for adults, is fatal for children and can also cause pathologies in the fetus if the patient is pregnant. Dealing with important issues for millions of mothers and children, Virginia herself has never been married and had no children. She devoted her free time to her hobbies, among which the violin was in the first place.
And at the age of 50, Virginia learned to pilot an airplane and bravely lifted light-engine cars into the air. When the professor had a rare vacation, she went to the shores of Australia or to Scotland for fishing or spent time in golf clubs. This amazing woman also collected postage stamps, was a wonderful gardener and a brave driver of a powerful car.
A curious case is connected with this hobby of Apgar, which perfectly illustrates the purposefulness of this woman. For one of the tools, a good dry maple plank was needed. Virginia found the right material right at her clinic — the board served as a shelf in a telephone booth on the first floor.
But no one was going to give away the cherished piece of wood just like that, Apgar and Hutchins simply kidnapped her. At the same time, two elderly women immediately brought a replacement, no less high-quality, however, too long. To restore the shelf, the kidnappers had to saw a new board with a hacksaw in a women's toilet stall.
By the way, they say that Apgar still could not realize one of her dreams — she never flew by plane under the George Washington Bridge. Although no one has the slightest doubt that this trick also worked for Virginia.
We talked about another wonderful doctor — Dr. Leila Denmark. This woman defeated whooping cough and was able to see for her life as many as three centuries.
Keywords: Doctor | Columbia | Pilot | Mother | Baby | Music | Professor | Birth | University