Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Published: March 8th 2011 by Random House Crown Publishing Broadway Paperbacks. (First published February 2nd 2010)
Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who got cervical cancer in her early 30s. It was the 1950s and the medical world was very different. She was treated at Johns Hopkins in a black ward. Part of her tumor was taken without her knowledge and passed on to a doctor who would try to culture her cells. Meanwhile, in her body, the tumors were growing at an alarming rate and they killed her quite quickly. The cells that were taken without her or her family's knowledge ended up growing and never stopping. They were named HeLa (the first two letters of her first and last names) and used in everything from the polio vaccine to being shot up into space for testing. Her cells made people rich but her family cannot afford to see the doctor.
This is a story about not only Henrietta but also her children and how they reacted to hearing that part of their mother has always been alive. With 4th-10th grade educations, it was hard for them to understand. For Henrietta's daughter Deborah, it was especially difficult. Her mother died when she was a baby and she never knew her.
The author, Rebecca Skloot is a character in this book because she gets to know Deborah and goes on a journey meeting the family and finding information about Henrietta for Deborah and her brothers. This is not only a tale about science, it's a tale about the faces behind science. Cell donations (in this case, stolen cells) come from real people. Their stories matter in most cases. If anything, they matter to the family. The story of HeLa is a special one because of how beneficial those cells became to future advancements in the medical field. Everyone needs to know this story.
I am so impressed with the scope of this novel. Rebecca Skloot took on a huge project and made an incredible book. I often paused reading and went to look at the pictures provided in the middle of the book. Looking at the woman behind the HeLa cells is quite powerful.
Everyone needs to read this. Everyone.