The Mother of Modern Medicine

Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, VA, but was sent to live with her grandfather after her mother died when she was 4.  She had a relationship with her cousin who also lived in the same house.  Together they had 5 children.

After the birth of her fifth child, she went to the hospital for what she described as a knot in her womb.  She was thought to have cancer of the cervix and was treated with radium tube inserts.  During her treatment, the medical staff took two samples from her cervix without her permission.  One sample was healthy tissue and the other one was cancerous.

The physician who received the cells discovered that they were more durable than most cells.  He then created a cell line which he called HeLa.  No one knew where the cells came from, but they became valuable

Henrietta’s cells produced medical breakthroughs, even 70 years after they were first collected.  They have led to two Nobel Prizes and over 17,000 patents, producing billions in income.  Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine from research on her cells.  Henrietta died without knowing the significance of her cells.  It was over 20 years before her family learned of their importance.

Henrietta’s family received none of the money generated by the cells.  They could not even afford their own medical care or a tombstone for Henrietta.  Rebecca Skloot, who wrote a book on Henrietta’s life, has created a foundation to support families whose contributions to medical research were made without their knowledge.

Henrietta has become known as the mother of modern medicine.  She never received the acknowledgment she deserved.  In fact, she would still be unknown today without investigations into who contributed to the HeLa cells.

Hidden heroes may live a life without ever knowing of the contributions they made to society.  In some cases, it may take a society time to fully appreciate their work.  In Henrietta’s case, she was denied the recognition she deserved to cover up unethical practices.  But truth generally wins out, revealing who the real hidden heroes are.

            * * *

“If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality.” Norma Cousins (Author)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.