Henrietta Lacks

Last spring, I went to a talk given by Rebecca Skloot.  She was investigating the person behind the “hela” cells, and wrote a book about Henrietta Lacks.  Henrietta lost her life to cancer, but before she died a doctor at Johns Hopkins took a sample of her cells.  Those cells multiplied and multiplied and multiplied.  Today, 60 years later they are still alive, and used in medical research.  They are known as “hela cells”, although previous to Rebecca’s investigations, few people actually knew that hela stood for Henrietta Lacks.  Henrietta’s story is both tragic (she had children who grew up without their mother) and motivating.  One incident that Rebecca spoke about stands out in my mind.  When Henrietta’s family was approached for the first time after her death by (I think) a young doctor or intern at Johns Hopkins, they could not understand what they were being told.  The person attempted to tell them that Henrietta’s cells were being used for research.  What they understood (being an undereducated black family) was that Henrietta was still alive and being kept  in a cell.  Could you imagine what happened to her family as a result of this medical anomaly?

Today, I searched to see if the book has been released yet.  I found that it will be available February 2nd.  (see Amazon).  Look on Wikipedia for more information on Henrietta.

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