The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Reflection #1, Chapters 32-End)

There was very little scientific focus in these chapters, the focus was on the Lack’s family. At the beginning of the book Henrietta Lacks’ daughter Elsie was mentioned on occasion — but her story was never elaborated. Rebecca Skloot made sure that the reader knew the clear comparison between Elsie and Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca helped Deborah find out what happened to her sister in the mental hospital that she was kept at until she died. Elsie had epilepsy, and when they went into the hospital they found a picture where she looked decrepit, covered in bruises held in place by someone holding her neck. Both her and her mother were experimented on, treated poorly, and unrecognized by medicine. This saddened me greatly, a small child was treated so terribly — and earlier in the book it said whenever Henrietta visited Elsie would cry the entire time, so she was obviously aware of what was happening and was in pain. For me, this was probably the part of the book that affected me the most emotionally, and while there were many other emotional parts in this book, none of them made me as upset as this one. For many years, the Lacks’ family wasn’t exactly sure what happened to Elsie, and once they found out it was not good news.

Eventually, in the 2000’s 50 years after their mother died, the Lacks family started to get some of the recognition they deserved. But that’s all it was — recognition — there was no compensation despite HeLa cells making so much money. Even when the Lacks’ would get expensive medical treatments, they were never compensated even if their doctor knew what their mother had done for medicine. The Lacks’ didn’t want to become billionaires off the HeLa cells (actually they probably did, I mean who doesn’t?) they were just looking for something to actually SHOW how important their mother was. How much does saying mean if you don’t show it?

I was incredibly pleased with how Rebecca Skloot wraps up her book. When Rebecca first got in contact with Deborah Lacks, she was unhappy, unsatisfied, and still confused about her mother’s death, and the use of her mother’s cells. After Rebecca wrote this novel and helped her get closure, she may have not had the money that she should have, but she had a happy, successful family that she left behind when she died in 2009.