The ‘unstoppable’ Dr. Apgar

Local author uses new book to instruct, entertain

Local author Carrie Pearson talks about her new book, “Virginia Wouldn’t Slow Down! The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention,” on Thursday at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette. The book is about a special test the anesthesiologist created for newborns. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Can an infant doll have a heartbeat? It can if you use your imagination.

Using dolls to understand a special medical test was part of Thursday’s book launch of local author Carrie Pearson’s “Virginia Wouldn’t Slow Down! The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention,” which took place at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

The book is described on Amazon as “a delightful and distinctive picture book about Dr. Virginia Apgar, who invented the eponymous test for evaluating newborn health that’s used worldwide every day.”

The book was published by Norton Young Readers and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.

Pearson talked about the book and the Apgar score to children and adults at the PWPL event, with the young ones clutching their dolls — which had a purpose at the launch. She also talked about Apgar, who was born at the turn of the 20th century when women and medicine didn’t often mix.

“When they were born, they were not doctors,” Pearson said of the women in Apgar’s era. “They took care of their homes. Sometimes they could be a teacher, but there were very few who became doctors. That’s just the way it was.

“But she decided that she actually wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to learn our bodies. She wanted to learn about how bodies work and how to make people healthy if they were sick.”

Apgar then went to medical school and studied hard, Pearson said. However, she wanted to become a surgeon, but at that time, women couldn’t be surgeons. Her teacher then suggested she become an anesthesiologist.

That was a big seven-syllable word that Pearson had the young audience repeat.

She also provided the youngsters with its definition.

“An anesthesiologist is a doctor who helps during surgeries,” Pearson said. “They help give medicines so our body goes to sleep, and we don’t feel the pain that we might feel if we were having surgery, or sometimes having a baby, too.”

Apgar then returned to school to study anesthesiology, becoming only the second board-certified female anesthesiologist in the United States.

Pearson said she learned that when the doctors and nurses were watching over the mother of a newborn, they weren’t paying much attention to the babies.

“They didn’t really know how to help them if those babies were born in trouble,” she said. “Maybe they couldn’t breathe.”

Because Apgar was an anesthesiologist, she knew what had to be looked at: heart rate, breathing, muscle activity, reflexes and skin color.

“Did they look pink or did they look blue?” Pearson asked. “If they looked too blue, that meant they weren’t very healthy.”

Thus, Apgar created the test by which almost every baby is measured today, she said.

From what Pearson told the kids, Apgar was quite the accomplished woman. She made her own violins and played them around the world, for example, and was a pilot.

Perhaps all her accomplishments pushed her to lead a quick-paced lifestyle.

“She drove her car so fast, she didn’t want to stop for anything,” Pearson said. “She had a special gun made that only shot quarters, so she could shoot the gun at the place where they took the quarters so she could go through the tollbooth really quickly.

“She was a very fast-talking, fast-walking woman who wanted to get a lot done.”

However, Apgar might have her more playful side, with Pearson noting she made “smiley faces” when she signed her name.

After Pearson talked about the book, the youngsters took part in a hands-on activity with their dolls to learn how the Apgar score works. They pretended to find a heartbeat, for example, using play stethoscopes they could take home.

Pearson also told the kids to touch their dolls’ feet.

“We want babies to respond to things that are touching them,” she said.

The highest Apgar score attainable, she said, is 10, which normally doesn’t happen.

“We have very healthy babies here,” joked Sarah Rehborg, director of PWPL Youth Services.

Pearson also shared a fact that something people might find surprising.

“You might think that the doctor is the best person to give the Apgar score in the delivery room, but that’s actually not the case,” she said. “Dr. Apgar thought that the best person to give the Apgar score are the nurses because the doctors are paying attention to the mom, but the nurses are paying attention to the whole room.”

Pearson is not new to the literary world. She also is the author of “Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree,” “A Warm Winter Tail,” “A Cool Summer Tail” and “Real Princesses Change the World.”

For more information on Pearson, visit carriepearsonbooks.com.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 550. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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