- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
- (NY Times Best Seller)
- Rebecca Skloot, © 2010, 2011
- Crown Publishing Group, (Random House)
- ISBN 978-1-4000-5318-9
- 328 pp. (ppbk) with cast of characters, notes, timeline, index and reading guide
A poverty-stricken African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 atJohnsHopkinsHospitalof a highly aggressive cervical cancer. Without her knowledge a doctor harvested some of her cancer cells.
Scientists had tried unsuccessfully for years to culture and grow human cells. To Johns Hopkins researchers’ amazement, suddenly Henrietta’s cells proliferated. Doctors used her cells for research and sent them all over the world. Hundreds of medical advances resulted using Henrietta’s cells (called HeLa cells) including for polio vaccine that eventually nearly wiped polio from the earth.
Because of racial disregard, Henrietta’s family did not know for decades what was happening. They didn’t even know their mother had cancer or that she’d died until the hospital called them to pick up her body. No one helped them with education or much needed medical treatments that sharing in the profits from HeLa cultures could have provided.
Over the years occasionally writers tried to learn the background story of HeLa cells but their mistreatment resulted in mistrust by the Lacks—until Rebecca Skloot patiently won their cooperation and trust. Her truthfulness and authenticity resulted in this amazing story. She also accompanied family members to Johns Hopkins to learn what happened to Henrietta.
Ms. Skloot set up a foundation to share her profits from this book for the dire needs of the Lacks. An outstanding writer, Rebecca Skloot also surely is a humble woman and maybe the first writer to really care about Henrietta’s extensive family.
The Lacks believe that God allowed Henrietta’s cells to grow and save millions of lives in the years since she died. I believe they’re correct about that.