The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
I spent all of my waking hours over an entire day reading this book. I started the book expecting a science lesson charged with ethical debate (awesome) and ended up completely swept away (even more awesome) – and feeling as though I were swept up WITH the author (most awesome of all) – in the story of the Lacks family.
About a year ago, I read an article about Henrietta Lacks – her medical case, the cell line that originated from her surgical biopsies without her knowledge or consent, the struggles her family had undergone learning about the cell line decades later and the questions the situations raised about medicine and confidentiality and ownership of our own bodies and parts…I have not been able to get the story out of my head.
I picked up the book expecting answers and closure and instead was drawn into something much more amazing – the rich, raw story of heartbreak and healing that completely engulfed the author in Real Life for over a decade, molding her and changing her in ways that, as difficult as it must have been to walk through with the Lacks family, and especially Henrietta Lacks’s daughter Deborah with whom she formed a very deep bond, I doubt she would trade for the world.
The cervix of Henrietta Lacks was biopsied in the early 1950’s during the medical work up of the cancer that would take her life soon afterwards at the age of 31 (31!) Without the knowledge of Mrs. Lacks or her family, cells from that biopsy sample were saved and successfully grown in culture. The cell lines created from those cells – named HeLa – are still in use by scientists worldwide and have been involved in amazing and lifesaving discoveries.
For the story of Henrietta Lacks’s family, this book is worth reading. It is the first book I have read EVER in which I have not confused multiple characters. I feel as though I know the family members, their friends and neighbors, the doctors and scientists and their family and coworkers, and even the author herself.
To be able to come along as the author becomes entwined in the science and medicine of the situation and into the very fabric of the Lacks family, to the point you feel as though you too are a part of the story, this book is worth reading.
For the scientific and medical information and history of human cell culture and research and the challenge of what-would-you-do ethical issues, where the results save lives, break hearts, rattle families and affect generations, this book is worth reading.
Rated best book of 2010 over 60 times. You will be completely into the middle of it before you realize you are all in. You may have read about the family or the cell line. You may think you know the story. I thought I did, and I had not even scratched the surface.
Thank you to Bonnie Lutz, Esq. for the recommendation. And thank you once again to Tom McFerson for the list, “24 Books to Change Your Life” in the June 2013 Veterinary Economics.
This is my very favorite book from the “24 Books to Change Your Life” list that I have read so far.