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Henrietta Lacks 100th Birthday

His year marks, Henrietta Lacks' the "Mother of Modern Medicine," 100 birthday.

I was supposed to attend the HeLa 2020: The Incontestable Impact of Henrietta Lacks 100th Birthday Symposium in Baltimore, MD. I was looking forward to meeting descendants of Henrietta Lacks and visiting the Lacks' family cemetery where she is buried. Due to the pandemic, it was canceled and is scheduled for 2021. I was looking forward to honoring an amazing woman whose cells (HeLa) were taken from her body without her consent at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, one of the few hospitals during that time that provided care for African Americans, that made medical history by saving hundreds of lives.

Henrietta Lacks was born on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, VA. When her mother passed away, Henrietta moved to Clover, VA to live with her grandfather, Tommy Lacks. Henrietta Lacks lived what was once a plantation in a former slave cabin. Albert Lacks, a white man, owned the plantation and was Henrietta's great-great grandfather. After Albert Lacks died, he left some of his plantation to the children he fathered with an enslaved woman.

In 1941, she married David Lacks and had five children:

Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman; Lawrence Lacks; David Lacks, Jr.; Elsie Lacks (died 1955) and Deborah (died 2009). The family moved to Turner Station, MD for better opportunities.

In 1951, Lacks went to John Hopkins Hospital with symptoms of irregular vaginal bleeding. After many visits to the hospital, Lacks died on October 4, 1951, from cervical cancer. She was only 31 years old.

Virus and cancer research, Dr. George Gey, collected cells from patients with cervical cancer. The cells of patients that he sampled died, as Henrietta Lacks' cells doubled every 20-24 hours. The HeLa cells were vital in developing the polio vaccine, fight the flu, cancer, gene mapping, cloning, and used to test the effects of atomic radiation and sent into outer space. HeLa cells have been used in more than 76,000 studies ("Privacy Pact" 61).

The Lacks family did not know until 25 years later that Henrietta's cells were stolen without the consent from Henrietta Lack or her family that her cells were used for medical science.

John Hopkins Medicine website states the following:

"The publication of Skloot’s book led Johns Hopkins to review our interactions with Henrietta Lacks and with the Lacks family over more than 50 years. At several points across those decades, we found that Johns Hopkins could have — and should have — done more to inform and work with members of Henrietta Lacks’ family out of respect for them, their privacy and their personal interests.

We are deeply committed to the ongoing efforts at our institutions and elsewhere to honor the contributions of Henrietta Lacks and to ensure the appropriate protection and care of the Lacks family’s medical information."

Unfortunately, the Lacks family never received any financial compensation.

A year ago, I traveled to Virginia and Maryland to locate murals and landmarks pertaining to Henrietta Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks' marker is located in Clover, VA. The marker was installed in 2010.

Henrietta Lacks and John Hopkins (right) mural in East Baltimore, MD.

This is a beautiful portrait of Henrietta Lacks at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

I was so happy to find out there is a Henrietta Lacks mural, close to home, at the Oak Park Metra Train Station.

Henrietta Lacks lived at 713 New Pittsburgh Avenue, Turner Station, MD where several African Americans worked at Bethlehem Steel and nearby factories from the 1800's to present. Turner Station is named after businessman Joshua Turner, who purchased the land. Henrietta Lacks' home is a historical landmark.