By Rebecca Skloot
What a phenomenal book! Henrietta Lacks, an African America woman, died in 1951 due to a virulent case of cervical cancer. When her body was autopsied, strings of tumerous pearls were found throughout her body and organs. Samples of her cells were taken, and amazingly, those cell never died. (All cells pulled from the body have a limited reproduction period.) To this day her cells are alive, and being put to good use. Scientists, doctors and researchers have used her cells to culture drugs and cures for herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, Parkinson’s, and a host of other diseases.
Her cells are commonly called Hela cells (for HEnrietta LAcks). At one point in time, doctors thought they had found another strain of extended life cells, but after backtracking, found all those cells had been tainted through unintended exposure to the HeLa cells.
The author weaves a gritty biographical story of Henrietta’s difficult poor upbringing and marriage, with the lives of her grown children. Due to the unusual characteristics of the cells, doctors often called upon the children for regular testing, but they were never told why. Unbeknownst to the family, Hela cells were and are sold in volume, and the family hasn’t benefitted.
An Immortal Life
The author tells us she became fixated on the idea of telling Henrietta’s story. We learn of her struggles to gain the family’s trust as they had often been betrayed. She writes in a manner that allows us to empathize with and root for the family who have battled large corporate, immoveable forces. We appreciate your efforts Rebecca Skloot! A worthy read.
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