Analysis of The Inmortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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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
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“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 he had found a cure for polio but there was one problem; he needed to test it on a large scale before offering it to children. However, to do that he would need “culturing cells on an enormous, industrial scale, which no one had done before” (Skloot 93). The NFIP (National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis) “began organizing the largest field trial ever conducted to test the polio vaccine” (Skloot 93). The cells used in neutralization tests came from monkeys, which were very expensive at the time, so the NFIP turned to expert cell culturists, including George Gey, who realized HeLa was unlike any human cells he had seen. As long as HeLa was susceptible to polio, the mass-production problem would be solved and it would be cheaper for the NFIP. In April 1952, William Scherer tried infecting HeLa with the poliovirus and found it is even more susceptible to
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