Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 32

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 32

"All That's My Mother" (2001)

  • Deborah, Zakariyya and Skloot head to Hopkins to meet Lengauer and see the HeLa cells.
  • Lengauer treats the Lacks children with respect and understands that they need basic but thorough explanations about what they're about to see.
  • He gives them a tour of the lab, showing them where the cells are stored and how they're processed. Deborah's a little terrified of it all.
  • And there's so much of Henrietta's cells in the freezers there. It's kind of hard for the Lacks children to take in the scope of it all.
  • Lengauer explains that there's a special room just for HeLa cells to minimize contamination. Deborah knows about this from her research. Lengauer's impressed.
  • Lengauer and Deborah joke that the contamination was just Henrietta getting a little revenge for her treatment by the scientific community.
  • He gives a vial of cells to Deborah to hold. She warms it in her hands and whispers to it, as though she were talking to her mother.
  • Then Lengauer shows them the cells under the microscope. They're alive and dividing right before Deborah and Zakariyya's eyes. He carefully explains about cell division.
  • He explains DNA and why it's important, how scientists use it for research.
  • Lengauer also explains to Deborah that Henrietta's cancer, though caused by a glitch on her DNA, was not heritable by her children. It's the first time that Deborah has heard this.
  • She also learns for the first time that HeLa cells are all cancer. Nothing of her mother's normal cells is present in them.
  • Zakariyya asks an important question: why aren't HeLa cells black when their mother was black? Lengauer explains that cells are colorless unless they're dyed like in the picture he gave them.
  • Lengauer tells them that he thinks Hopkins didn't handle the HeLa situation well. He feels that scientists forgot that HeLa came from a real person with a real family.
  • He tells Zakariyya that he doesn't blame him for being angry with Gey and all the researchers at Hopkins. Lengauer also believes that they should get some money from HeLa cells.
  • In the end, both Deborah and Zakariyya feel more at peace with the cells and the research being done with them.
  • Zakariyya even thanks Lengauer and Skloot as they leave.
  • Deborah remarks to Skloot that Skloot has witnessed a real miracle: her brother being grateful and calm.
  • This is an amazing chapter. Lengauer has been respectful, candid, informative, and non-condescending. He even apologizes on behalf of the scientific community.
  • It's a very healing experience for these traumatized children of Henrietta.

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