Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 29

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 29

A Village of Henriettas (2000)

  • Skloot continues her research for a year without any response from Deborah.
  • When she goes to Clover, she leaves friendly messages for her telling her she's with her cousin Cliff, or in Henrietta's tobacco fields or wherever, hoping to get Deborah to pick up the phone.
  • No luck.
  • One day Deborah's husband picks up and starts yelling at Skloot how the Lacks family is tired of not being compensated for their mother's contribution to science. She won't get away with that with her book, no sir.
  • A few days later, Deborah finally calls Skloot and gives her permission to tell the story. But she has to tell it right, and make sure that the whole story of the family is told.
  • They meet for the first time at a B&B in Baltimore. Skloot gives her a present from Christoph Lengauer: a framed print of HeLa cells stained with fluorescent dyes.
  • It's a beautiful picture.
  • He's also invited the family to come to the lab and see the cells in person.
  • Deborah's very moved by the photo and the offer to visit, but she's not ready.
  • She shows Skloot all the paperwork and memorabilia she's collected of her mother over the years.
  • Skloot can see from the sensational headlines of the tabloids that Deborah collected that the media did a good job of really confusing the heck out of the Lacks family.
  • They had no idea what HeLa cells actually were or did. Deborah tells Skloot that she thinks there's a whole community in London filled with Henrietta clones.
  • Skloot learns that a reporter had made a joke about the volume of HeLa cells—that they could populate a whole village of Henriettas—and the family had taken that literally.
  • Deborah tells Skloot that she's horrified about the possibility of walking into one of her mother's clones.
  • Skloot and Deborah spent days together just talking about Henrietta and getting used to each other. Skloot tells her that the blood McKusick took from her family wasn't for a cancer test.
  • When Skloot sees Henrietta's medical records lying on her bed with Deborah's other papers, she makes the mistake of reaching for them. Deborah loses it.
  • She isn't ready to share those records.

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