The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks summary

Categories: Henrietta lacks

Chapter one

Chapter one is about when Henrietta lacks is in the Hopkins hospital explaining to the doctor that she has a lump. Henrietta had felt this lump for a long time but though it was because of her pregnancy of her 5th child. The gynecologist looks at her medical history; notices that Henrietta had a list of untreated medical problems. The chapter also explains the time of period it was in as it describes how they were segregated. They had they own section on the hospital for black people.

Chapter two

In this chapter it tells the early life of Henrietta how she was one of 10 kids. Her mother died when she was only 4 years old and her father could not take care of all 10 so he moved back to where rest of the family was and split all the kids to different family members. Henrietta was left with her grandfather who was also raising her cousin David lacks. It describes their childhood life at the farm how they had to work and the things they did to pass the time.

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It also tells how Henrietta ends up marrying her cousin David and has 5 kids.

Chapter three

In chapter it explains how the doctors at the Hopkins hospital are working on getting a cure for cervical cancer. Their idea to cure cancer is to treat the tumor before it has become cancerous; they use Pap smear as a way to prevent cancer. It also explains how radium was used to destroy the cancer and many other things but it also kill the person that was been treated with that.

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The doctors at the Hopkins hospital start doing their own medical studies from patients without their consent. They also start using Henrietta as one of their patients for the studies. Henrietta finds out she has cancer but does not let her family know what is wrong with her.

Chapter four

This chapter is about when the samples from Henrietta come to the lab to be experiment on but the doctor assistant is at lunch and takes her time to get to the samples. In the mean while, Henrietta stays 2 days at the hospital recovering from the radium treatment. When Henrietta leave the hospital Mary notice that Henrietta cells didn’t die and they are reproducing. It also tells how doctor Gey had hired his assistant and why. It also tells about doctor Gay life, how he paid his college and the experiments he did in college.

Chapter five

In chapter five Henrietta has done 2 radium treatments and the doctors tell her that the cancer is getting smaller, but she will still have to come to the hospital daily for one month to do x-ray. Henrietta had to tell her cousin that she has cancer because she had moved to her house to be able to go to the hospital which was nearby. Cancer is not the only thing that Henrietta has to deal with; she has to send her daughter to a mental institute since she can’t take care of her.

Chapter six

In this chapter Rebecca the author is telling how she became to do the research for the book about Henrietta HeLa cells. At first she contacted Roland Patillo a gynecologist who had organized the “The HeLa Cancer Control Symposium.” She asks if he knew the lacks. His response was yeah but at first he didn’t want to give her the information on how to contact them but at the end he gave her the phone number of Deborah, Henrietta daughter. When Rebecca contacted Deborah and told her that she wanted to make a book about her mother, Deborah agrees to help. Rebecca stays on the phone with Debora for about 45min listening to the stories about the family. While on the phone Debora is called away and when she get back on the phone tells Rebecca that she can’t talk no more that she has to contact the man of the
family. When Rebecca tries to call them she gets day on the phone he tells her not to bother them and hang up on her.

Chapter seven

Alexis Carrel a scientist, who had won the Nobel for working blood vessels for organ transplant, was also working on growing organs outside the body. He was a racist scientist who though only white smart people should have more privileges than everyone, he did not believe in equal rights. As a result people though of research scientist as racist. Soon after Henrietta began her treatment George Gey had an interview on TV about the cancer cells he was working on. In the interview he never mentions who the cells belong to even though he was sending those cells to the scientist who were doing research on cancer cells.

Chapter eight

Henrietta was sent home after her treatments and was told she was cured. Henrietta later on return many times complaining about pain, but she was always told that there was nothing wrong with her and sent her home. After many times of coming back and complaining they found a big tumor non operable tumor on her stomach. Henrietta was treated with more radiation to try to stop the growth of the tumor, but it did not help. Soon Henrietta was hospitalized and was kept on painkillers. Henrietta family visit her daily at the hospital. The doctors tried to get another sample of cells from Henrietta but they did not survived like the first ones.

Chapter nine

Rebecca the author is trying to get in contact with the lacks but they are ignoring her calls. So she decides to drive to Baltimore to look for them. She stays at the holiday inn hotel and tries to page sunny. After sunny ignoring her pagers she decides to look for the town where the lacks last know address was. She gets lost, drove in circle in front of the Henrietta museum not knowing that’s the place that she is looking for. Once she know
who they were she tried to talk to them but they refused to talk about Henrietta, sunny refused to talk to her. Chapter ten

Rebecca doesn’t give up and heads to clover, Virginia to look for the lacks. She gets lost again but eventually she finds a cousin named Hector Henry also know as cootie. He was an old man who was half paralyzed from when he got polio. His house was an old house made of plywood and cinderblock. He talks to Rebecca about how nice Henrietta was when she was alive even when she got sick.

Chapter eleven

in 1951 Henrietta's cancer has gotten worse she got tumors all over her body and her kidneys are not working no more. She has a lot of blood transfusion that the doctors decided to stop and inform the family that the blood bank was out. Emmet lacks one of henrietta's cousin gather 8 men to donate blood for henrietta. When the men got to the hospital they saw how bad henrietta was and that blood could not save her. Henrietta was tied to her bed because she used to scream and jump of her bed whenever in pain.

Chapter twelve

on 1951 after henrietta's death george gey wants to do a autopsy on her body. For an autopsy he needs her husband consent at first day refused but then they convince him. Once with the consent gey sends mary to get the samples, while there mary realize that HeLa cells are from a “real person”. After autopsy henrietta's body is taken to clover virginia for the funeral and to be buried there. It took the family a while to find a spot where to burry her because the lot was full already. After she got buried the clouds got dark and a strong wind that it even blew several roof of the house.

Chapter thirteen

on the same year that henrietta died there was a polio epidemic. On 1952 jonas sack develop a vaccine which he couldn't test on humans yet. First he
had to test then on human cells, so the national foundation for infant paralysis contacted gey so he could test HeLa cells. Which came to be perfect for the vaccine because they were susceptible to polio. Soon the tuskegee created a factory to reproduced the HeLa cells for studies. The researchers exposed the HeLa cells to myriad disease. The HeLa cells were on demand for many people and soon the Tuskegee laboratory was not enough two doctors created a factory in a bigger scale for the HeLa cells.

Chapter fourteen

Since HeLa cells have help scientist in their research, people start to ask questions about where they came from. Soon the Minneapolis star publish an article about the cells in which they got Henrietta’s name wrong, they called her Henrietta lakes. Soon Roland h. berg a magazine writer wanted to do another story about Henrietta but he wanted to do it from a human interest story. After that many other tried to get more information on her but doctor gey would not give any he said he did not want to get in trouble. The collier’s magazine wrote another article on Henrietta cells but he said they came from Helen L. after she had died. Until the 1970s, the human source of the HeLa cells was almost always called “Helen Lane” or “Helen Larson” in print.

Chapter fifteen

To Henrietta children was a mystery what happen to their mother because in the 1950 death was never discussed with the children. Henrietta’s husband day had to work two jobs to support his family. Lawrence the oldest of Henrietta’s children, dropped out of school to take care of Sonny, Deborah, and Joe his 3 youngest siblings. At sixteen, Lawrence got himself a voter registration card that said he was eighteen. This helped him get into pool hall but it also got him put into the army to fight in the Korean War. When Lawrence left Henrietta’s cousin Ethel and her husband moved to Henrietta’s house to take care of the children. She barely fed them and kept the food lock at all times so the kids would not eat, she did this since she always hated a Henrietta. Joe the youngest one was the one who got the worse of Ethel. Lawrence came home from the army, but for several years he did not know that Ethel was abusing his siblings. He found out around the time that he got married, so he and his new wife, Bobbette, took in his siblings. Even though Debora was living with her brother she was still getting sexually molested by Ethel Husband. Bobbette felt that something was wrong, and she encouraged Deborah to fight off any relative who attempted to molest her. Deborah took Bobbette advice and fought Galen and other boy cousins who tried to touch her sexually.

Chapter sixteen

In 1999 Cootie sent Rebecca to speak with another cousin, Cliff, who had been like a brother to Henrietta when they were children. Cliff gave Rebecca a tour of the house. He also took her to the graveyard where most of the Lacks family was buried. Most of the graveyards had no stone it was few who had a stone. Cliff found the stone for Henrietta’s mother nearby it was 3 graves without stones and said one of those had to be Henrietta’s. Cottie explain to skoot how in the graveyard it was also white people buried there too, he said their ancestors were white. He explained how they had gotten the land from their great-great- grandfather Albert lacks and his bother Benjamin.

Chapter seventeen

A researcher named Chester Southam began to worry that HeLa cells might be able to infect researchers with cancer. In 1950 it was not require getting consent from patients to be used in medical studies So he began injecting small samples of HeLa into the arms of cancer patients. Some of these patients fought off the foreign cells; others developed tumors. Soon after that he also did the same thing on some prisoners from the Ohio State Penitentiary, but the prisoner’s body fought off the cancer cells quickly. When southam asked for help 3 Jewish researchers they refused. They knew Nuremburg Code which laid out strong patients’ rights recommendation, even though it wasn’t required here in the usa. Soon they resign their positions and made it a public matter, because of then the board of regents and national institute of health issued a strict set of guidelines governing the ethics of medical research.

Chapter eighteen

By the 1960 Henrietta’s cells were everywhere even in space. Nasa scientist wanted to see how the cells would react on a zero gravity conditions. A researcher, a cell culturist named Lewis Coriell, published an article on the HeLa cells, he said that HeLa might be able to contaminate other human cell lines. So a group of scientist got together to form the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a bank of rigorously tested, pure cell lines. Here they found out that cell cultures some were contaminated with viruses or bacteria; others were primate cells labeled as pig or duck cells. scientists traced down several original cell lines and established a bank which everyone trusted to contain uncontaminated and properly labeled cells. They also discover a process called “somatic cell fusion”. The media did not like this they called them mad scientist.

Chapter nineteen
Deborah gets pregnant at 16 but that doesn’t stop her from getting her high school diploma thanks to Bobbette her sister in law who help her with the baby and help her get a job. At the same time 2 of her bothers are not doing badly themselves, Lawrence got his own shop and sonny join the army right after high school. But Joe the youngest its having problems with the law and did not finish school. At 18, he joined the military, but he constantly picked fights with the other soldiers and with the officers. Because of this, he spent most of his service term in solitary confinement and soon sent home. Joe pleaded guilty on the trial of murder of ivy and was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Around the time Joe went to prison, Deborah married her long-time boyfriend, Cheetah, and gave birth to a second child. In their marriage Deborah suffer a lot of physical abused from cheetah because he was on drugs. But Deborah always fought back and once she finally fed up she left her home and began to work 2 jobs to support her kids.

Chapter twenty

Gartler’s a genesis made a discovery that suggested that much recent research on human cell lines was inaccurate. He believe that all cells were contaminated with HeLa cells because they had a genetic marker called G6PD-A, which indicated that they were almost certainly from Henrietta Lacks. When garler’s told researcher on his speech at Pennsylvania in 1966 everyone was surprised many decided to believe him and tested their cells to find the trait of G6PD-A but not all scientist believe him, the ones that didn’t just continued their work like nothing.

Chapter twenty one

On New Year ’s Eve Rebecca Skoot meet up with sonny who said she was persistent since he was two hours late and she was still waiting. Sonny took Henrietta to Lawrence house who was waiting for her. Lawrence offers her food he was cooking and started to talk about his childhood life. Many times Rebecca tried to get him to talk about his mother but he just kept quiet, and avoids the subject. Later he tells Rebecca that he prefers not to talk about his mother because it’s just too painful to ta remember. Since Lawrence didn’t know what his mother’s cells had done Rebecca explained what a cell was and what they had done. When Day and sonny come in they said they also knew nothing about the cells and how the doctors had lied about why they did the autopsy. Bobbetta also tells Rebecca that the doctors at the Hopkins hospital would kidnap children to do research on them. They were also mad because Henrietta’s cells have help so much science but they got anything from that not even health insurance.

Chapter twenty two

When gey was 71 years old he found out he got pancreatic cancer. He went into surgery but the cancer was not removed to its size, it was bigger and more spread than expected. Doctors were afraid that if they try to remove it they would kill him. Before the surgery gey had ask to take samples of his cells just like henrietta's and since the tumor was not removed there were no samples. Before dying gey had volunteer for under going experiments treatment. In 1971 two of gey co workers publish an article about gey life of work and also about henrietta's cells and how she was mis diagnosed of a
different cancer but the treatments were still the same.

Chapter twenty three

on 1973 Bobbetta finds out that theres scientist working on live cells of her mother in law henrietta's and gets frightened because she is afraid that they will also come after her family since at that time the Hopkins hospital kidnap black kids to do experiments on them. In the same year researchers decided to develop a test, so that researchers could test cell lines and make sure that they were not accidentally growing HeLa intead of other cells. Victor McKusick, asked a younger colleague named Susan Hsu to get blood samples for genetic research from Henrietta’s family. When she called Day the conversation did not go well because they did not understood each other. Day agree since he though that they were doctors and they knew what they was doing. Deborah lets then draw blood from her and expect them to call her back with the results from the test but they never call. Deborah was afraid that she would get cancer just like her mother. When she gets a second call for another blood draw then she talks to the doctors and demand for them to tell her what is going on and what happen with her mother.

Chapter twenty four

On the mid 1970 the lack males are upset because they have found out from a journalist from rolling stones, that the scientist are making money from Henrietta’s cells and they haven’t receive anything. They think that Gey was the one making the money but in reality Gey did not sell the HeLa cells instead he gave them away, he only wanted them for research. At the time they could of have sued McKusick and Hsu because they published information about the Lacks family’s genetic information in an obscure scientific journal, but they did not know they could of done that. At the same time Deborah tries to find out more about what happen to her mother by studying science by her self by reading science books, which she did not understood much.

Chapter twenty five

In 1984 a guy named John Moore was suing a doctor named David Golde for creating MO cells from him without his consent. Even though when he was first diagnosed with leukemia cancer and got his spleen removed he had sign a consent form stating that the hospital could of dispose if it by cremation. The cells were worth 3 billion dollars and even though they were cells coming from him he lost the case. They court said that the existence of the HeLa cells proved that patients did not care if doctors sold their cells. The lacks family were not aware of this sue.

Chapter twenty six

In 1985, the family learned of a book about HeLa contamination called A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman’s Medical Legacy and the Scandal It Caused. When Deborah found out she got a copy of the book and saw how it had all her mother’s medical record. It had everything it even describe Henrietta’s body when the autopsy was done. Deborah got really angry about this because it reveals her mother’s private information. Rebecca Skoot tries to find out from the author how he got that information but it was no use neither he or the hospital would tell her who gave him Henrietta’s information. The author Michael Gold told Rebecca he didn’t really care about the lacks because there was nothing they could do anyways since Henrietta was already dead and the dead have no privacy right.

Chapter twenty seven

Scientist discover why Henrietta’s cells are immortal, they found that Telomerase was the key to cancer cell immortality. A chemical found only found on cells with cancer and not normal cells. In 1984 a scientist found what cause Henrietta cancer, which was human papilloma virus a virus that affect 90% of humans that are sexually active. This led to the development of the HPV vaccine.

Chapter twenty eight

In the 1990s a BBC producer heard about Henrietta’s story and did a documentary about her life. Also a scientist named Roland Patillo hosted a medical conference in Henrietta’s honor and the lacks family to make an appearance. Deborah and the other Lackses were happy by these changes. Soon Courtney Speed a grocery owner and Barbary Wyner made a museum with a wax statue of Henrietta. They raised money by selling t-shirts but Deborah did not like this she said they don’t need a museum or statue, what they need was money for going to the doctor. Deborah hired a guy named Dr. sir lord Keenan Kester Cofield as a lawyer to sue the Hopkins hospital but he turn out to be a fake, he was no lawyer or doctor as he had told Debora. Even though Debora fire him he still continue with the law sue to Hopkins and he even sue her. At the court they did not validated his law sue but Debora still kept getting mail from it and she worry so much that she almost got a stroke from it.

Chapter twenty nine

Rebecca tries to get an interview with Deborah after the almost stroke but Deborah refuses. Eventually Debora agrees to the interview but with conditions that Rebecca has to get Henrietta’s name right and also research Elsie lack. After Rebecca agreeing to the conditions Debora tells Rebecca everything on her mind about her mother and other things too. Rebecca finds out that Debora had the cloning idea all wrong she used the Jurassic park movie as a way to understand cloning. When Rebecca finds an envelope and grabs it Debora snatch it away and leave.

Chapter thirty

Deborah returns the next day to Rebecca hotel room and tells Rebecca that she is taking her to her brother Joe now known as Zakarriya’s. Deborah made sure that Rebecca learns how to pronounce his name before heading to him since he had anger problems. At the beginning Zakarriya ignore Rebbecca and did not speak to her but eventually he opens up to Rebecca and says he is angry because of how they have treated them with no respect and that people thought of them as suckers. Debora gave him a photo of his mom cells and he got emotional. Since Rebecca was heading to Christoph Lengauer’s lab to see Henrietta’s cells she asked Zakarriya if he wanted to come and he said yes.

Chapter thirty one

Despite of other people telling her that she should not talk to white people about Henrietta’s because only black people will get the story right Debora still speaks to Rebecca. Soon Debora and Rebecca become friends and start doing research together on Henrietta. Deborah becomes more knowledge and understands more about her mother’s cells that one day she is call to a conference to talk about HeLa cells. At first she thinks its not a good idea but Rebecca tells her that she should do it. Even though her son Albert was arrested for robbery this did not discourage Debora from doing the conference speech.

Chapter thirty two

Rebecca took a tour of Cristoph Lengauer’s cancer lab at Johns Hopkins, she invited the lacks but only Deborah and Zakarriya agreed to go. Day was ill and Sonny had to work. Lawrence, for his part, was fed up with hearing about HeLa. Christoph took them first to a freezer room to show how HeLa cells were stored. He explained that researchers had to be careful to prevent HeLa from contaminating other cell cultures. Next he led the way to a laboratory, where he displayed a magnified image of living HeLa cells on a screen. And explain them the difference between dna and cells and that the cells that were alive were the cancer cells only. He also told them how he though that the Hopkins had mess up by not giving them recognition and profit from the money of HeLa cells. Debora and her brother saw with amazed how the cells divided. Before leaving the lab zakarriya tab Rebecca and Chistoph on the shoulder and thank them.

Chapter thirty three

Rebecca and Debora head to the Crownsville Hospital center where Elsie had die to find out what had happen to her. When they got there they went to
medical records room but it was empty then they found Paul lutz a white man. Deborah requested medical record from Elsie who had die in 1955, Mr luts told her there were no offial records since they all had been destroy on an asbestos contamination. He explain that he had manage to save some papers but it was not much. He told Deborah around that time people where used on cruel experiments and that the hospital was too crowded that it was one doctor for every 255 patient. He also managed to find a picture of Elsie autopsy and body, which had some bruises. When Deborah left she said she was glad she had found out what happen to elsie even though it was horrible.

Chapter thirty four

Rebecca and Deborah drive to a hotel in clover, Virginia and check in. There Debora finally hands Rebecca the medical records of Henrietta. Debora leaves the room but soon comes back and demand Rebecca that they should read them together. Rebecca sorts them out since she stack of papers has many other papers too. Rebecca ask Debora if she can have a copy of the medical records but she refuses to give her a copy she says that’s the only thing left of her mother that and the bible everything else everyone has taking it from them. They get into an argument and Rebecca finally fights back, Deborah respond and says she is glad she is human.

Chapter thirty five

Rebecca and Deborah headed to Deborah Aunt Gladys who was Henrietta’s sister. When they went in they heard moaning from Gladys dying husband. Soon Debora cousin Gary walk in and saw how Debora was pacing back and forth and kept repeating what she had found out about elsie. Gary tried to calm her down but she did not, so he started to pray for her and ask god to release Deborah from her burden and to give it to Rebecca. After they finish praying Deborah said she felt better now.

Chapter thirty six

Since Deborah hives still haven’t completely disappeared she decides to go back to Baltimore to see her doctor, Rebecca decides to stay in clover. Since Rebecca was confused about what she had seen the day before at Gladys house with gary she decides to go back there again and ask Gary what she had witness? Gary explained that is was the lord working on her that’s why she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then he grab the bible and read it with her out loud, they read about faith. This made Rebecca understand why the lacks though that Henrietta’s was still alive though her cells because the cells were angels.

Chapter thirty seven

When Deborah sees her doctors she finds out that the symptoms she was having almost caused her a stroke so the doctor recommended to avoid stress at all caused. Deborah listens to her doctor and stop the research with Rebecca to avoid stress, But it wasn’t enough she was getting stress on her personal life when her son Alfred got arrested for robbery and her nephew also got arrested. At the same time larence and zakarriya were still upset for not receiving money from the HeLa cells. This and the attack on September 11 made Debora have a stroke which her grandson help save her live. The stroke made Debora see life different and now she wanted her grandkids to have an education something that she couldn't get for her self. Two months after rebecca went with Debora to church because it was sonny's new grand daughter baptist.

Chapter thirty eight

on the last chapter in 2009 rebecca is driving back to clover, virginia to see deborah and on the way she sees the road and start thinking how everything about henrietta's is disappearing. In the past year while she was finishing her book day, cootie, and gary had past away. Rebecca told Debora that her book was done, Debora wanted to read it but she never got to read it because she died before. But when she died she died happy because she had said she did not want to live forever because everyone she knew would died and she would be alone. Even though henrietta's cell had help a lot on research her family still did not get any help on medical bills sonny had surgery and he was in debt for about 125,000. the good thing was that by all of this their grand children was now inspired by all of this and now they were getting an education most of them were in college getting a degree.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks summary. (2016, Feb 28). Retrieved from

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks summary essay
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