Friday, November 30, 2012

A Great Read!

I love to read!

Really, I do love to read but I just don't seem to do enough of it much of the time. Both my daughters also love to read too and occasionally one of us will find a book that we especially enjoyed and try to insist that the others read it and hopefully, that they too will enjoy said book as well.

Last week, my older daughter called and in the course of our conversation, she told me about a book she had just finished and that I should read. I told her to bring it up here sometime when she's home for a visit and then, made a mental note to myself about the name of this book she was touting so heavily but figured -knowing my daughter -it probably would be a while before she would remember she had said she was going to bring this book up here.

The very next night though, she and grandson Alex popped in to spend the night and the first thing she did was to hand me this book and tell me, over and over, that I absolutely HAD to read it because it was just a truly fascinating story and she just knew I would like it.

The next day, when she left to go home, the last thing she said as she went out the door was to shout out a reminder to me to be sure to read that book now!

And so, that's how I came to sit down -pretty much for the next two days -and read this book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloots.

Normally, non-fiction -unless it is history of some type, is not that high on my reading likes list and this particular book is non-fiction. Plus, it is also about science and medicine and discoveries and such and I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this piece.

But to my surprise, this piece is not some really dry -like the Saharra Desert that some non-fiction books resemble (in my opinion, anyway). Not at all like that!

As a matter of fact, within a few minutes and the turn of several pages, I was hooked on the story of this woman and the legacy she left behind that has been of benefit to probably just about anyone born since the late 50s!

Henrietta Lacks was a young woman, married with five young children back in 1951 when she succumbed to a horrible and excruciatingly painful death from cervical cancer.

Now your asking how could someone who died then and of cervical cancer have done something so momentous that it would affect virtually the entire world.

Well, at that time and for several decades after that too, any lab tests that doctors may have required of anyone and also, any autopsy results too, could be used by any other doctors and scientists without prior authorization from either the patient or the family. And, that's what happened when Henrietta died as various lab test results and cell tissues and autopsy cell tissues too that were secured from her body were used by a medical scientist in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. From various tests this doctor ran on her cell tissues, he made a discovery that her cells kept growing -and growing -and growing!

To this day, remarkably, her cells are still dividing and growing and being used in all kinds of test procedures!

Today they are known to the medical and scientific community as He La cells -named after the first two letters of Henrietta's first and last names.

That alone is a remarkable thing to read about and learn that her cells have been used in many, many studies over the past 60 years now that have brought about momentous changes in detection of diseases as well as the creation of various medicines and vaccines -in particular, the Salk Polio Vaccine for one, and have been part of all kinds of studies of just about any and every illness or drug imaginable.

But that alone isn't what makes this book and the story so stunning.

It's also the story of Henrietta's family -her husband, her five children as well as others who were a part of her extended family. And in that respect, it is the story of how her own family had no clue for well over 20 years that her cells had been used in experiment after experiment and had produced so many spectacular results too.

Her family though, was also dirt poor and although the use of her cells grew into a multi-million dollar business eventually, her family never received a penny of compensation from this industry. For that matter, neither did the doctor who made the initial discovery as he gave away cells tissues to other doctors and scientists because of his belief in the sharing principles of the medical science community.

Incredible, isn't it? To think of something like that happening today is a bit of an impossibility, isn't it?

But back then, it turns out it was basically the norm and it stayed that way until I think the mid-to late 90s when finally rules and regulations and laws were set up so that patients had to give consent to the retrieval and usage of their cells plus other ethical edicts were also then brought about -finally!

This book though details everything Henrietta endured, how her passing affected her family then and throughout the years and the author does an excellent job of painting a picture of her, her children and family and friends and of what their lives were like then and up through the present time with her very well-chosen prose.

It really is an awesome story and a definite fast paced page turner of a book too!

I would recommend this book highly to anyone wanting a good read and a chance to learn a good bit along the way about the medical-science community. It has humor and great sadness in the story as well but as each page is turned, you find yourself anxious to move on and find out what happened next.

Get yourself a copy and see if I'm exaggerating my opinion of this book for yourself.


terri said...

I've been craving a really good book, and this one has been recommended t me before. Now after your rave review, I'm going to have to get this one.

Suldog said...

Geez, that sounds really spooky, that her cells kept growing and dividing after death. Seems like it might make a very interesting read. Thanks, Jeni.

Monalisa said...

Thanks for recommending the book. Got it from the library yesterday, really enjoying it...