Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks is a woman we all owe a thank you to.  Henrietta is an African American woman who had five children and was diagnosed with cervical cancer in her early 30's.  Unbeknown to Henrietta, the doctor took a snippet of her tumor and put it in a petri dish.  Scientist George Gey was able to take these cells and grow them and today they are known as HeLa, the first human cells to grow outside of the human body.

Henrietta died over sixty years ago yet HeLa cells are alive today, continue to grow and are useful in making an array of medical advances, we can all be thankful for.  "HeLa cells were used to make the Polio vaccine and the cervical cancer vaccine.  The HPV virus was discovered and the Pap smear installed as a necessary test for every woman.  Henrietta's cells have been taken to space, used to test the effects of nuclear radiation and even cloned.

The Lacks family had no idea that Henrietta's cells were alive and responsible for amazing medical advances.  They found out twenty years after her death when someone leaked Henrietta's name and medical records to the press.  This book is Skloot's way of honoring and telling the story of the Lack's family.  Today, Henrietta lies in an unmarked grave and her children and grandchildren live in poverty without medical insurance.  Skloot is attempting to right some wrongs done to the Lacks family.  This book contains a wealth of valuable information that will compel every reader to question what is ethical in the medical profession.  The chapters in the book alternate between the family story of the Lacks and the scientific story of the amazing journey and impact of HeLa cells in the medical community.

 I learned a lot while reading this book and want to say thank you to Rebecca Skloot for telling the story.  I also want to send a big thank you to Henrietta for her cells.  My mom and aunt both had cervical cancer and without the medical advances provided from Henrietta's cells, the outcome may have been tragic.  Instead my mom and aunt are healthy today.  Thank You Henrietta Lacks and Family!

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