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.
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.