Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 14

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 14

Helen Lane (1953-1954)

  • Lots of people knew Henrietta's name, but the first mention in the media contained a mistake. She was called Henrietta Lakes (probably a phonetic spelling of a southern pronunciation).
  • Nobody Gey knew would own up to the mistake. Mostly, this was because the docs at Hopkins didn't really want the patient's name revealed.
  • When Gey was contacted by other media-types who wanted Henrietta's full story, he told them to leave it out. He'd talk about the cells all they wanted, but not the woman.
  • But Gey also never explained to reporters that they'd gotten Henrietta's name wrong.
  • When the editor of Collier's magazine asked Gey for an interview some time later, Gey truly didn't want to include Henrietta's personal story along with the information about cell culture.
  • Still, there was mention in the article about a "Helen L.," the generous donor of the HeLa cells.
  • The editor also said that the cells were taken from her after her death.
  • When Gey and the head of public relations at Hopkins edited the story, they didn't correct the misrepresented name or the timing of the tissue extraction.
  • Skloot tells us that it's possible that Gey let the identity mistake stand to throw reporters off the trail leading to the real Henrietta Lacks.
  • And so it was that Henrietta became known to the general public as Helen Lane or Larson until the '70s.

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