Henrietta Lacks The Immortal Woman

Henrietta Lacks Story Trailer

Life Before HeLa

Henrietta Lacks was a person before she became known as HeLa. Many people did not know HeLa's backstory before "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" surfaced telling her story.

Henrietta was born in Roanoke, Virginia to Eliza Lacks Pleasant and Johnny Pleasant. She lived in a small town called Clover in what all of her relatives called the home house. She married young to her cousin David (Day) Lacks. Day and her had five kids: Lawerence Lacks, Elsie Lacks, David Lacks Jr. (Sonny), Deborah Lacks (Dale), and Joe Lacks who later changed his name to Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman in prison. Elsie was Henrietta's first born daughter, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and was institutionalized. She died at fifteen which doctors at the facility believe was due to overcrowding in the Crownsville hospital or the experiments done on epileptic patients. Deborah was Henrietta's second daughter. She is mainly known has Henrietta's only daughter because Elsie was not around. Deborah was the main child wishing to understand HeLa cells and who did not want to sue the doctors at John Hopskins for money. All Dale wanted was to learn and then she would die happy. Zakariyya was Henrietta's last born child. Shortly after his birth, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Zakariyya spent the majority of his life with Ethel and Galen has his primary care givers. Ethel was abusive to the three youngest Lacks children because of her jealousy towards Henrietta marrying Day. The abuse towards Zakariyya turned him into an angry child and because of this he was quite the troublemaker. Whenever he was a teenager, he killed a man who did him wrong.... He didn't mean to and later turned himself into the police out of guilt.

This is Henrietta's family.

Dr. Howard Jones diagnosed Henrietta with cervical cancer and began radiation treatments to cure the cancer because this occurred during the times whenever it wasn't common knowledge radiation causes cancer. Originally, the radiation treatments looked like they were working, but, overtime, Henrietta's cancer tumor came back. They tried more radiation, but all it did was turn her stomach a charcoal black. She fell ill due to the radiation and became weak and frail. Soon it was too much for her to walk around so she became tired and could not leave her hospital bed. She became depressed because she could now longer see her children and later died in the hospital bed.

Whenever doctors did an autopsy on her they found hundreds of little white tumors lining her organs. Her cancer had spread throughout her entire system. Doctors now know that she had a very aggressive strain of cervical cancer, whenever she was beginning to get treated they treated like it was normal cancer which is probably why it was able to grow so aggressively.

Time Line

1920 - Henrietta Lacks is born in Roanoke, Virginia. This event is important because Henrietta's birth starts the entire story; in other words, without her there would be no HeLa.

1952 - Scientists use HeLa to develop Polio vaccine. This was a mile stone for science because so many people were dying due to this disease so a vaccination was major news.

1954 - Chester Southam begins to conduct experiments without patient consent to see whether or not injections of HeLa could cause cancer. Southham was originally testing to see if HeLa cells could contaminate normal human cells with cancer when injected into the system. He found that on average a human was able to fight the cancer cells off so it would not spread. The use of cancerous cells without consent caused a controversy among the ethical and humane use of HeLa for scientific purposes.

1966 - Stanely Garter drops the "HeLa Bomb" proposing that HeLa has contaminated numerous cell lines. This was shocking because so many doctors believed they had created new immortal cell lines without the use of HeLa and if the proposal was true it would mean years worth of scientific work would have been pointless. Garter ended up being correct about the HeLa contamination.

1973 - The Lacks family learns for the first time that Henrietta's cells are still alive. Henrietta's cells were taken in 1951, twenty- two years later her family find out a piece of their mother, wife, or cousin is still alive.

Henrietta's Cells

Whenever Henrietta's cell sample was taken from her cervix, Dr. George Gey cultured HeLa in his lab using his specific method of keeping the cells in a constant spinning motion with enough culture to grow. Henrietta's cells are known as HeLa because that is what Dr. Gey labeled the cells as whenever he was beginning to grow them, "He" for the beginnning of Henrietta and "La" for the beginning of Lacks. After the cells began to grow in its test tube, havoc began in the lab due to excitement with Gey's discovery. He began to give away the cells to other scientists, who have since researched diseases such as: aids, polio, and, obviously, cancer.

HeLa cells are described as immortal because they can infinitely grow with the supplied amount of culture. This allows for scientists and researchers of many generations to impact medicine and science in a way that keeps diseases like cancer getting closer to a cure. Thanks to HeLa scientist were able to make a cure for the polio virus in 1952, 1 year after HeLa's creation.

Despite all the good scientists have done with HeLa cells, they also have some controversies because of them. Such as the Southam experiments, where Chester Southam injected large amounts of HeLa cells into unknowing patients to determine whether a human could get cancer from a HeLa cell. Later, he changed the purpose of the experiments to see if the HeLa cells could be a cure for cancer or delay cancer growth. Another instance does not exactly involve the cells, but Henrietta's family. Susan Hsu under the instructions of Victor McKusick took DNA samples from Henrietta's family to help solve the HeLa contamination problem by looking for similarities in her family's DNA to Henrietta's to remove the cells or complete extinguish the cell lines. They told the family they were doing blood tests and Deborah that they were testing them for their mother's cancer. Sadly, Deborah worried forever waiting for results until doctors told her what had happened. She spent most of her 30s worrying if she was about to die due to cancer because of the doctors lack to clarify what was happening.

HeLa cells also offered a pathway for con-artists, most notable Dr. Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield. Cofield told the Lacks family he was a lawyer and was willing to support a HeLa case in order to get the family financial compensation and to explain the cells to them as well. This was great for everyone in the family, especially Deborah. He even convinced Deborah to sign off Henrietta's medical records for him to look at. Finally, he was proven to be a fraud making the family even more terrified to trust anybody about HeLa or their mother. This obstacle made it quite difficult for Skloot to get any information from the family for a while, especially the medical records.

This quote shows how Deborah Lacks, Henrietta's second daughter, is no longer trying to understand the HeLa cells for herself but for her children and her brother's children. The quote shows how Deborah realizes that these cells are important for her kids and her brother's kids to understand so they will not live in a state of confusion like Deborah had to almost all of her live. Deborah's realization is important to the story because she no longer feels as if HeLa cells affect her generation of Lacks kids. She knows that in order for her to receive any satisfaction from the HeLa cells her children most know and their children most know. They must except their past in order to move forward, this is why Deborah can die with a smile on her face because she knows Skloot will fulfill her wish to teach the "new Lacks children" about HeLa.

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