Henrietta Lacks: A Medical Miracle from Roanoke, Virginia

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Imagine not being recognized because of the color of your skin. This was a reality for many people in the mid-1900s, including Henrietta Lacks, despite her vital contribution to medical research.

“They didn’t want white people not taking the vaccine because it came from a black woman, so they tried to make her look as white as possible,” said Henrietta Lacks’ grandson Ron Lakes.

Henrietta Lacks was born in Star City. The married mother of five died in 1951 aged 31 after a battle with cervical cancer. Doctors took samples of his tumor without his knowledge or permission and made a shocking discovery.

“My grandmother’s cells are immortal. They’ll be around here when I’m gone, my great great great grandchildren are gone. Henrietta Lacks’ cells will always be there,” said Ron Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells became known as HeLa cells (short for Henrietta Lacks) and have been used in tens of thousands of medical studies paving the way for advances in HIV, in vitro fertilization, genetic mapping, cloning and cancer treatments. HeLa cells have also been used to create a vaccine against one of the world’s deadliest diseases, poliomyelitis. And these same cells are currently being used to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“I guarantee that you benefit in some way from HeLa cells,” said Ron Lacks. “You know that anti-wrinkle cream you put on your face to make those wrinkles go away? Henrietta, I mean HeLa cells. Lipstick. Oh yes! I mean, even his cells have been in space. They wanted to see what it would do to human cells.

Although the researchers relied heavily on the HeLa cells, the identity of the woman behind them was unknown, including her family, until decades after her death.

“In 1973, my mother discovered HeLa cells. She was having lunch with one of her friends and a professor came and my mother’s friends introduced her as Bobette Lacks and the professor said, “We work with a person named Henrietta Lacks, her cells, and my mother said that was my mother-in-law. -law. And that’s where we first found out about it,” said Ron Lacks.

Until July 2021, a square located directly in front of the municipal building of the city of Roanoke downtown called Lee Plaza, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now the west end of the public space called Henrietta Lacks Plaza. A fund is being collected effort to raise $ 140,000 to build a life-size bronze statue of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman, and place it in the exact location of the place where once stood a statue Lee.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing and I’m glad we’re able to recognize it,” Roanoke Vice Mayor Trish White-Body said. “I don’t know if you know this or not but she has just been recognized by the World Health Organization. The WHO has just put a statue in Bristol, UK, of Henrietta Lacks in her honor Surely we should have one in his hometown and here it is.

White-Boyd raises money as a private citizen, but says the city is looking to bring a search party to Roanoke to shed light on the stories of several local places and people hidden in plain sight, including that of Henrietta Lacks.

“It’s a wonderful ending story about a black woman. You know, it wasn’t a good story at first because she had cervical cancer, but what she did and his contribution to medical science are incredible,” White-Boyd said.

Ron Lacks, Henrietta Lacks is amazing simply because she is his grandmother. He said that apart from his immortal cells, it was no different from other women.

“She loved being stylish. She really did. That’s why they talk about her painting her nails and lipstick,” Ron Lacks said.

Henrietta Lacks and her late husband, David, were determined to improve the lives of their children. That’s why the couple moved to Baltimore. Throughout this time, the greatest opportunity for advancement was Henrietta Lacks herself.

“Henrietta Lacks, to me she is my grandmother. To the world, she represents the greatest gift to humanity,” said Ron Lacks.

About Norman Griggs

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