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We don't see very much of Sonny in the book. Though he's Skloot's most solid contact with the Lacks family in the beginning of her search for info, Deborah quickly takes over that role. He good-naturedly defers to Lawrence's judgment, dropping Skloot off at big brother's house for vetting before he has anything to do with her. When Deborah gets on board, Sonny's kind of off the hook and out of the picture for a good long while.
Sonny becomes the poster child for the ironic unjustness of the HeLa industry. Though he has a failing heart, he can't get the care he needs. Skloot sums up the ridiculousness of the situation this way:
[…] the last thing he remembered before falling into unconsciousness under anesthesia was a doctor standing over him saying his mother's cells were one of the most important things that had ever happened to medicine. Sonny woke up more than $125,000 in debt because he didn't have health insurance to cover the surgery. (306)
Sonny's also proud of what his mother, in the form of her cells, has accomplished:
"[…] the other day President Clinton said the polio vaccine is one of the most important things that happened in the twentieth century, and her cells involved with that, too." (162)
Aside from lack of money, Sonny also expresses what all Lackses and many African-Americans regard as the ultimate barrier to timely and appropriate health care: lack of trust in the medical community.
"Back then they did things," Sonny said. "Especially to black folks. John Hopkins was known for experimentin on black folks. They'd snatch 'em off the street […]." (165)
The disregard for his family shown by so many scientists and doctors teaches Sonny that staying away from the doctor until you're almost dead is the safest way to deal with them.