There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.
Rebecca Skloot almost failed her high school biology class. But her teacher told her about Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells and then and there she planned one day to write a book about the subject. After getting a BS in biology and a Masters in journalism she became a science writer, and wrote this book. Henreitta Lacks was a poor Africian American woman, the daughter of a tobacco grower from small town Virginia. She was raised mostly by her grandfather, married her cousin and had five children. In 1951 she died at Johns Hopkins Hospital of cervical cancer. What makes her famous, though is the fact that some of the cells taken from her tumor became the first human cells to survive and grow in a culture medium. As such they helped make the polio vacine and have been involved in countless medical studies. These remarkable cells are known as HeLa cells. In the 1970′s her family found out that Henrietta’s cells had been used in this way, though they did not understand and no one explained to them. This book is about Henietta’s decendents learning of the importance of the cells and beginnig to pull themselves out of poverty. It is written with an even-hand and positive tone. Read it if you are interested in science, social justice, or family histories.