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Virginia and her life-saving score

Scour the pages of the world’s research history, and how many women’s names do you find? Well-known male scientists are greatly benefited by the committed toil of their women colleagues who invariably remain behind the scene. Still rarer are instances where women’s findings bear their own names. One of the exceptions is Virginia Apgar.

It was the middle of the 20th century. Dr Virginia Apgar was a well-known anaesthetist in Columbia University, USA when she was disturbed to see many newborns being mortally affected by the anaesthesia given to the mother. She vowed to find a way of reducing this terrible loss of life in the labour room.
Her intentions and constant work crystallised into a famous score which later got to be called Apgar score. This consists of five parameters. The noting down starts usually one minute after the infant’s birth. Each parameter is given two points if found satisfactory.

Heartbeat
If more than 100 per minute — 2 points
If it is less — 1 point
If absent — 0 point
Respiratory effort
If the baby cries lustily — 2 points
If the respiratory effort is weak, irregular or laboured — 1 point
If the baby is not breathing at all — 0 point
Muscle tone
If the baby’s whole body is moving briskly — 2 points
If the baby is just flexing its extremities — 1 point
If the infant’s whole body is flaccid — 0 point
Response to stimulus
A small catheter is just inserted into the baby’s nostril.
If the baby sneezes or coughs — 2 points
If there is only a grimace — 1 point
If there is no response to this stimulus — 0 point
Colour
If baby’s whole body is pink — 2 points
If the body is pink and the limbs are blue — 1 point
If the whole body is blue or pale — 0 point

If the infant’s score is 7-10, he is healthy, well-oxygenated and does not require any treatment. If the score is 4-7, the baby is in shock and prompt treatment should be initiated. Apgar score looks simple, but has saved millions of infants all over the world. This is followed in almost all hospitals, as it does not require sophisticated instruments and specialists.

We feel proud that a woman’s name has been given to this life-saving score. Of course, in recent years, new methods in gauging the health of the newborn have cropped up, but the popularity of Apgar score remains undimmed.

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