Kurt's Historic Sites

Virginia Apgar

Virginia Apgar

Interment LocationVisited 
Westfield, NJDecember 20, 2022 

Photographed December 20, 2022.

Do you know what you scored on your first test? I don’t recall taking it, but records show that I got 9 out of a possible 10 (I was deducted a point because my hands were discolored). Anyone reading this caption born after 1952 most likely underwent this same examination, but doesn’t remember it either. That is because an Apgar Score test is administered one minute and then five minutes after a baby’s birth in order to evaluate its overall health. It has been reported that a physician once said, “Every baby born in a modern hospital anywhere in the world is looked at first through the eyes of Virginia Apgar.” This leader in neonatal health never had any children of her own, and is laid to rest with her parents in the community where she herself was born — Westfield, New Jersey.

A caduceus is carved into Apgar’s flat marker. This winged-staff with two snakes wrapped around it has been used as a medical symbol possibly as far back as the sixteenth century. The gravestone’s inscription does not mention the doctor’s involvement with the March of Dimes nonprofit, but it does credit her for the creation of her namesake score. The stone also includes a religious reference, in the form of a quotation from English poet Frances Ridley Havergal’s hymnal, “Take My Life and Let It Be.”

Photographed December 20, 2022.
Photographed December 20, 2022.

The Apgar Score is not only named after its creator, but is an acronym for the five categories it assesses. The first A stands for appearance (is the skin color healthy, including hands and feet?). P stands for pulse (is the heart beating 100 times per minute?). G stands for grimace (how well does the baby respond to stimuli?). The second A stands for activity (is the baby engaging in active, spontaneous movement?). Lastly, R stands for respiration (is the baby breathing at a normal rate and effort level, and does it have a strong cry?). In each category, a newborn can receive a grade of 0, 1, or 2, with 2 being the best. A perfect Apgar Score therefore is 10. A score of 7 or higher is considered healthy. Virginia Apgar’s test has better determined newborn health concerns and therefore predicted and reduced infant mortality. However, researchers behind a peer-reviewed study released in 2022 suggested that the scores’ “association with mortality is influenced by infant race.” Their data indicated the Apgar Score was less useful for estimating the odds of mortality for non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic non-Asian infants than for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic other infants.”

Fast Facts

Born: June 7, 1909 in Westfield, New Jersey

Died: August 7, 1974 in New York, New York

Cause of Death: Cirrhosis

Age: 65

Interment: Fairview Cemetery, Westfield, New Jersey

"Nobody, but nobody, is going to stop breathing on me!"
- Virginia Apgar
circa the 1950s, explaining why she kept basic resuscitation equipment on her person at all times

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Gillette, Emma, James P. Boardman, Clara Calvert, Jeeva John, and Sarah J. Stock. PLOS. July 12, 2022. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1004040.

Johns Hopkins All Childrens Hospital. “What is the Apgar Score?” Accessed February 15, 2023. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/What-Is-the-Apgar-Score.

Muthukumar, Akila. “Apgar scores are less predictive of infant mortality for Black babies than white ones, study finds.” STAT. July 12, 2022. https://www.statnews.com/2022/07/12/apgar-scores-less-predictive-of-infant-mortality-for-black-babies/.

National Library of Medicine. “Virginia Apgar: Biographical Overview.” Accessed February 12, 2023. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/spotlight/cp/feature/biographical-overview.

Shampo, Marc A., PhD., and Robert A. Kyle, M.D. “Medical Symbols: The Caduceus.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 65, no. 8 (1990): 1159. Accessed February 15, 2023. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)62731-1/fulltext.

Yount, Lisa. A to Z of Women in Science and Math. Revised ed. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008.

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