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Henrietta Lacks

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Henrietta Lacks, was an African- American raised by her grandfather with a lot of her cousins. She grew up in Virginia a very kind women who would take care of anyone but could also take care of herself. She was short and beautiful. Henrietta and her cousin David married when she was twenty and he was twenty-five. Both were hard working. Henrietta gave birth to five kids and the oldest was put in a mental institution. Henrietta developed cervical cancer in her early thirties. While in a colored hospital named Hopkins, Doctor Howard Jones took samples of Henrietta’s normal cells and of her cancerous ones. The doctors expected the cells to die after a short period of time like all other cells do. To their surprise Henrietta’s cancerous cells did not die, they multiplied. This was amazing to the doctors. The cells were immortal but Henrietta was not and died in 1951. Doctor Jones sold the cells to any other doctors interested. Doctors used the cells for all types of tests without informing the family or giving them money from the profit they made from the cells which they called HeLa. Some doctors made factories which were only for the production of HeLa. Later when the family found out about the cells they were very upset that the doctors didn’t ask for permission to use her cells and that they didn’t acknowledge Henrietta. David could not take care of the kids himself so he remarried and had two cousins move in to help. Ethel, one of the cousins, tortured the children and barely fed them. The children all grew up hateful especially the youngest, Joe. Joe would later find himself in a ton of trouble with the authority for being very violent. Eventually articles went out trying to give Henrietta the credit for the HeLa cells but they were given the wrong name, Helen Lane. This was another thing that upset the Lacks family. Sometime after the right name was exploited to the public. Along with the many advances that HeLa brought, came the recognition of the scandalous behavior of doctors. They were taking peoples cells and other bodily tissues without permission, and selling them without consent. First recommendations were created then new laws. While reading the book, the author, Rebecca Skloot, goes back and forth between telling the story of Henrietta and Rebecca’s journey of learning about Henrietta. Rebecca first learned about a woman named Henrietta Lacks during a class. She was interested and wanted to learn more so she did some research. She wanted people to know about the significance of HeLa and the woman it came from so she decided to write a book. At first, trying to contact the family was hard because they were stubborn on the subject of Henrietta. Eventually Rebecca explained that she wanted to write a book honoring their mother/cousin/wife. After Rebecca insisting on meeting them for years they gave in and told her everything about their lives and Henrietta’s. Rebecca spent a lot of time with Deborah, one of the daughters. Together they talked about Deborah’s mother, went to see Henrietta’s cells, visited places where Henrietta lived, and a lot more. Deborah was very high spirited, especially about her mother. Sadly, Deborah did not live to hear Rebecca read her the book. Rebecca wanted people to know of Henrietta. She wanted them to know that she was an amazing woman that raised children while taking care of her cousins also. She was selfless, compassionate, and strong willed. Besides learning about Henrietta in this book people will learn about cells; the way cells function, the history of them, and their importance to our health. I thought the book was very interesting. I loved learning about Henrietta and her struggles. I also thought that learning about the culturing of cells was cool. I didn’t like all of the in depth detail that was not needed. Reading about all of Henrietta’s cousins and little things about random doctors was boring. I understand that HeLa cells got around very quickly but I did not want to read about every doctor’s experience with HeLa.

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