Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
October 4, 2012
Just imagine part of your body being taken away from you...scary right? That is exactly what happened to Henrietta Lacks. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot explains who Henrietta was, where she came from, the events that put her in the hospital and eventually killed her, and the legacy she has left in the world of science. Henrietta Lacks was born Loretta Pleasant in Roanoke, Virginia on August 1, 1920. No one knows how she became Henrietta. Her mother, Eliza Lacks Pleasant, died while giving birth. Henrietta’s father, Johnny Pleasant, did not have the patience to raise ten children, so he took them all to live in Clover, Virginia. Henrietta lived with her grandfather and her cousin, David Lacks. Henrietta and David had shared a bedroom since she was four, so it was not a surprise when they started having children together. Henrietta had five children in all: Lawrence, Elsie, Sonny, Deborah, Joe (who later changed his name to Zakariyya). A week before learning she was pregnant with Joe, Henrietta had told some of her cousins that she had a knot inside her. About five months after giving birth she finally went to her doctor. The doctor told her she had better go to the John Hopkins gynecology clinic. Howard Jones said he had seen easily a thousand cervical cancer lesions, but he had never seen anything like what was inside Henrietta. Dr. Jones cut a small sample and sent it to the pathology lab where Mary Kubicek handled the now famous cells. She labeled the culture “HeLa” for Henrietta and Lacks and then carried them to an incubator room. Four days later, George Gey, the leader of the lab, noticed the cells were growing with mythological intensity and doubled their numbers every twenty-four hours. George Gey told a few of his closest colleges about the magnificent find and gave them some cultures of the “immortal cells.” Henrietta never knew that her...
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