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Life, Death, And Immortality Essay

941 words - 4 pages

The novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is divided into 3 sections: life, which tells the reader about Henrietta’s life and the birth of HeLa; death, which consists of times after Henrietta’s death, and lastly; immortality, which discusses how Henrietta’s cells have become immortal. Overall, the book is based on Henrietta and the lives of her children and how they cope with the way medical science has treated their mother. Though the book is not written in chronological order, Skloot does a good job of organizing her information according to its section.
The first section, life, tells the reader about the beginning of HeLa. Henrietta’s symptoms began shortly after the birth of her fourth child, Deborah. Henrietta felt a knot inside her, but after only a week, Henrietta was pregnant with Joe, her fifth and final child. Four and half months after having Joe she started bleeding but it was not her time of the month. She asked her husband, Day, to take her to the hospital. At Johns Hopkins gynecology clinic, the doctor took a small sample of her lump to send to the pathology lab and sent her home. A few days later, she got her results saying the lump was “Epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, stage 1” (Skloot 27). While admitted in the hospital, she received radium treatment, and while unconscious, Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr., “shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix: one from her tumor, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby” and placed the samples in a glass dish (Skloot 33). Her cells were given to George Gey’s lab assistant, Mary Kubicek, who was handling most of the tissue samples at Hopkins. So far, all of the samples Mary Kubicek tried to grow had died. She was handed Henrietta’s cells, prepared them as normal and labeled them using the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last name. This cell culture was called HeLa, Henrietta Lacks. Two days after Henrietta left the hospital, Mary realized Henrietta’s cancer cells were growing, and every twenty-four hours they doubled in size. As long as the cells had food and warmth, they were unstoppable. “George told a few of his closest colleagues that he thought his lab might have grown the first immortal human cells. To which they replied, Can I have some? And George said yes” (Skloot 41). Sadly, Henrietta would never know of the exciting history her cells would soon be making. She passed away on October 4, 1951 of cervical cancer. She was thirty one years old.
The next section, death, shows how HeLa helped prevent premature death due to certain diseases, including polio. In 1951, the world saw the biggest polio, epidemic in history. In 1952, a man named Jonas Salk announced...

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