Dr. Cecily Apgar’s test for babies

When a baby is born, the new parents immediately memorize the child’s weight, length and time of birth. But there’s an equally important vital statistic they frequently note: the child’s “Apgar score.”

Dr. Cecily Apgar, a Westfield, NJ native, developed the now famous test that measures the infant’s physical condition minutes after birth. Her efforts led at least one health official to credit her with doing more to improve the health of mothers, babies and the unborn than perhaps anyone this century.

It has been said that babies born in modern hospitals anywhere in the world are looked at first through the eyes of Cecily Apgar. Given at one minute and five minutes after birth, the Apgar test quickly assesses the:

   A ppearance (skin color),

   P ulse,

   G rimace (reflexes),

   A ctivity (muscle activity) and

   R espiration (breathing).

A low score can immediately signal the need for emergency medical attention.

Dr. Apgar is said to have developed the lO-point scoring system in 1952 to force physicians and nurses to pay more attention to newborns in the first critical minutes of life. As a result, her work formed the foundation of what was then a new medical specialty-perinatology, which since has helped save countless infant lives.

Dr. Apgar’s contributions to medicine and health, however, extended far beyond the development of the infant test that bears her name.

Born in 1909, Dr. Apgar was determined to make medicine her life’s work at a time when few women even attended college. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and, in 1933, received her medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

After practicing surgery for a few years, Dr. Apgar turned her attention to the fledgling field of anesthesiology, eventually focusing on obstetrics and the effects of anesthesia techniques on newborns.

Her passionate interest in the health and welfare of children-including the unborn-that resulted in the Apgar score also sent her on a new career path. In 1959, Dr Apgar received a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and joined the National Foundation of the March of Dimes as head of its birth defects division.

Traveling around the globe, the well known and respected physician lectured about birth defects and raised money for research toward their prevention and treatment. It is believed that “Cecily Apgar probably did more than any other physician to bring the problem of birth defects out of the back rooms.”