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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Summary

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks PDFImmortality can sometimes be construed as an act of deity, performed and nurtured in pre-modern societies.

When you put words like eternity or timelessness in the spotlight, people often think of heroes and people who are regarded as legends.

This book is all about a woman whose treatment will echo across centuries for her unplanned contribution to medicine.

Who Should Read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”? And Why?

Don’t blame us for putting a poetic spin on this story. When you read it – you’ll immediately sense why we are so amazed by the sequence of events which illustrate this medical struggle.

The bottom line is – “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is a breathtaking work straightforwardly delivered to us!

Regardless of your whereabouts, tradition, or culture – this book is for you!

Rebecca SklootAbout Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot is a freelance writer born on September 19th, 1972. She specialized in medicine and science which partly explains why she decided to cover Henrietta’s life story.

She visited several Universities across the US, teaching students the principles of creative writing and journalism.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks PDF Summary”

Rebecca Skloot didn’t have any clue regarding the life-trajectory of Henrietta Lacks. She first came across her name in a biology class, and since then the curiosity only soared. No one actually had much information about Henrietta, and Skloot was the one plunged into learning.

Being engrossed entirely in Non-fiction writing laid the foundation for Rebecca Skloot to use this strong-willingness and write the story of Henrietta.

Henrietta Lacks was only four when her mother passed away in 1924, leaving her to take care of herself from an early age. A throwback to 1920 – Henrietta was born to a relatively poor African-American family, as the eight children.

Not long after Henrietta’s mother died, her father makes up his mind to move to Clover, Virginia where he separates the family by giving the children to relatives. Henrietta goes to Tommy Lacks (her grandfather) at which house she shares a bed with her cousin.

This relationship turns into a sexual one, right about the time Henrietta is 14. She gives birth to a boy named Lawrence, and a few years later she conceives another child. Lucile is born short-afterward whose health-conditions deteriorates as she suffers from severe mental disadvantages.

Not seeking any medical assistance, Henrietta and Day decide to raise the child by themselves. Later on, they welcome a third child into their lives named Sonny.

In 1951, Henrietta realized that her due date is near, and she gives birth to yet another baby girl – Deborah. After the birth, she senses an intense pain in her womb but decides to ignore it due to lack of trust in doctors.

Right about the time, Henrietta gives birth to a fifth child (Joe), the pain intensifies. She now feels beleaguered and is compelled to seek medical assistance. Henrietta is diagnosed with a tumor as big as a grapefruit.

A gynecologist (Howard Jones) at Johns Hopkins explains that “something” quite big is attached to her cervix and recommends radium treatment.

Inquisitive regarding the process of cancer-treatment, Jones and Richard TeLinde (the Boss) take samples of Henrietta’s blood cells.

Without Henrietta’s consent, they pass the cancerogenous cells to George Gey (a scientist who thrives on finding new medical solutions). Up until now, he has failed in creating the so-called immortal cells which will help the upcoming generations.

In the meantime, Henrietta is subjected to cancer-treatment – not knowing that Gey and Mary (his assistant) are trying to separate the cells, but to no avail. With little hopes of success, lucks turns around in their favor.

After splitting the cells, Gey finally manages to create the first-ever sequence of immortal cells – labeled as the HeLa.

Much of the success, should be credited to George’s wife Margaret whose sterilization methods have helped the process fueled by the necessary tools.

HeLa cells’ use is without any doubt, and it continues to gain the necessary momentum. The experiments launched in the fields of oncology, biology, genetics, and others helped the society to progress in medicine.

The very harvesting happened without any formal approval from Henrietta.

Henrieta undergoes radium treatments in an effort to kills or destroys the cancerogenous cells. At Johns hospital, she is advised to go-through daily X-ray analysis, to increase the chances of success. In the meantime, she finally plucks up her courage and informs her family of the medical predicament.

After the X-rays, she is exhausted and goes to Margaret’s house to sleep. The doctors don’t realize that her stomach begins to puff up, as tumors form in the abdomen area.

Several weeks later, doctors claim that she is free of cancer, but Henrietta dies shortly afterward.

Gey requests a full autopsy and wants to procure more blood samples. In addition, the Lackses (Henrietta’s family) know nothing of her involvement in this large-scale medical research. Elsie, who is also sick is sent to a facility to get proper medical help.

Nonetheless, feeding 4 children is too much for Day Lacks at this point. To help his family, Lawrence drops out of high school to enlist in the US Army and is soon dispatched to Vietnam.

Day calls upon Henrietta’s relatives Ethel and her husband to take care of the remaining three children.

Ethel, who wasn’t very fond of Henrietta, abuses the children at every opportunity. Worked to the bone, and often beaten, life is hard for Deborah, Sonny, and Joe.

They are even starved to submission, while Lawrence knows nothing about it.

Galen even sexually harasses Deborah for years, while Joe has anger problems. Upon witnessing the mistreatment, and injuries caused by Ethel, Lawrence picks up his siblings and decides to raise them by himself.

Sonny starts on the right foot, graduates from high-school and even enlists in the Air Force. However, he soon falls into drug problems and is arrested. Deborah, on the other hand, begins dating Cheetah with whom she has a child.

She even decides to settle down and agrees to marry him. Deborah gives birth to a second child, but Cheetah (her husband) can no longer support his family as he starts abusing drugs and becomes increasingly aggressive towards Deborah.

Deborah is no pushover because she learned how to defend herself while living with Galen. She even pushes him down the stairs with the intention of killing him at first, but then she subdues this urge. Deborah files for divorce and becomes a single mom.

Joe, on the other hand, experiences emotional instability caused by Ethel’s abuse. He joins the military but is expelled soon for exchanging blows with too many fellow soldiers.

He can flare up at any moment, and upon his return to Virginia, Joe commits murder and is arrested.

He spends most of his time in solitary and ponders about life. Joe gives thought to the possibility of converting to Islam, and that’s what he does.

Upon release, he struggles to rejoin society and find a stable job.

He is forced to volunteer at Johns Hopkins (medical facility) in order to make some money. Medicine is revolutionized by Gey’s recent discovery, as many scientists and researchers think of selling the cells with a single intention in mind – to make money.

Tuskegee Institute is converted into a factory for HeLa Cells, where the inhumane syphilis studies were conducted.

Journalists want to know more about the origins of the HeLa cells, and the colleagues at the institute are not sure whether it is smart to mention Henrietta.

Not wanting to reveal her true identity, they give some false names. In the meantime, many research operations are held at the center.

Chester Southam even begins injecting cancer cells into patients without their consent of course, and his unethical method is compared to Hitler’s experimentation on Jews.

It became clear that the Jewish doctors are not to keen to proceed with the research and they hand in their resignation.

New policies are enacted in the 1960s, according to which – researchers and doctors are obliged to obtain consent from their patients prior to conducting any kinds of experiments or collecting blood samples.

In the meantime, renowned scientists manage to form the ATCC (American Type Culture Collection). By 1966, Gartler is able to prove that HeLa cells aggressive advancement overshadow that of other cells, and the researchers are compelled to walk out on this medical outlook.

In 1970, Gey himself was diagnosed with cancer and died a few short months afterward. It is after Nixon’s war on cancer that the Lacks family hears of HeLa cells. They don’t know anything of Henrietta’s involvement and nurture deep distrust toward doctors.

It became crystal clear that doctors and scientists alike are in it for the money. The Lackses are tested for cancer, but it is all in vain. Deborah even tries to educate herself on HeLa cells, but that is easier said than done.

In 1984, another scandal emerged as John Moore files a lawsuit against a doctor who harvested his cells without proper consent. It’s estimated that the patented and reproduced cells are worth approximately $3 billion.

The court upheld the doctor’s rights and rules against Moore. The Lackses didn’t file one of their own, as they don’t have the details regarding the whole HeLa process.  

The first contacts between Rebecca and Deborah emerge in 1999 over the phone. They talk for almost an hour when Deborah is instructed to end the chat without further warning. Skloot even goes to Baltimore to meet with Sonny, but he never shows up.

On the way over to Lacks Town, Rebecca bumps into Cottie (Henrietta’s cousin) who warns her that the Lackses hate talking about medical stuff. Finally, Sonny agrees to meet her and takes her to see Lawrence as well.

Ten months after the initial contacts were made, Deborah and Skloot decide to continue where they left off. Deborah agrees to give an interview but stipulates certain conditions to be met:

  • Skloot mustn’t twist Henrietta’s name as previous researchers did
  • She must find out what happened to Elsie

Skloot agrees to these terms as they continue their search. The next day, they decide to pay a visit to Zakariyya (Joe’s new name after converting to Islam) a visit. He is bitter and irritated but keen to share his thoughts on HeLa Cells.

The three of them, visit the Christoph Lengauer’s cancer lab at Johns Hopkins, where the Lackses for the first time can take a look at cell division. Accompanied by Deborah, Skloot hit the road the next day heading toward Crownville – the place where Elsie lived.

They don’t hear anything good about Crownsville, and most of the files which could lead them to Elsie are lost. After conducting a throughout investigation, they do come across a photo of Elsie with hands wrapped around her neck.

They later decide to pay a visit to Deborah’s cousin Gary. Rebecca returns the other day to break words with Gary regarding the whole thing about Henrietta and Elsie.

In the meantime, Rebecca and Deborah became close friends and share the fruits of their investigation. Deborah’s health deteriorates over time, and Rebecca tries not to expose her to any additional stress and begins to hide some facts.

Deborah suffered a stroke while in church, but survives thanks to her grandson’s reaction. Things don’t go in the right direction for the Lackses as Gary, Day and Cooties die one after the other. Sonny, on the other hand, has health problems and needs to pay a $125,000 hospital bill.

Deborah works full time to help her daughter earn a living, but struggles to keep up the pace. Skloot calls to inform her that the book is finally finished and is going to be published in the near future. She dies soon after, and the rest is history.

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“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Quotes”

But I tell you one thing, I don't want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that's just sad. Click To Tweet Some things you got to release. Gary said. The more you hold them in, the worse you get. When you release them, they got to go somewhere else. The Bible says He can carry all that burden. Click To Tweet We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph. Click To Tweet I keep with me all I know about you deep in my soul, because I am part of you, and you are me. Click To Tweet Like I'm always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Taking time off to scan through Henrietta’s life story is definitely well-worth the energy.

We urge you to take a quick glance at the events which throw light upon the partial effectiveness of the cancer treatment known to society.

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