The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Part 3, Chapter 29 : A Village of Henriettas (2000) | Summary



Returning to her research story, Skloot tells the reader that after not hearing from Deborah for a year, she finally gets a phone call from her. Skloot had been going to Clover and leaving messages for Deborah, telling her what she found, and hoping to get Deborah to agree to see her. James, Deborah's husband, tells Skloot the family has had it with people who will make money off the story coming to see them and not giving them any compensation. But Deborah calls a few days later, and she makes Skloot promise to work with her to find out about "what happened to my mother and my sister, cause I need to know." When they meet in July 2000, Skloot gives Deborah a print of the cells enhanced with fluorescent dyes by Christoph Lengauer, a Johns Hopkins cancer researcher who has invited the Lacks family to come visit his lab.

Deborah shows Skloot all the articles, tapes, and other materials she has gathered about her mother, and tells her she thinks there is "a village of Henriettas" walking around London. She read this in an article. Skloot tells Deborah only Henrietta's cells have been cloned; there are no clones of Henrietta herself. But all the stories about what has been done with the cells make Deborah think of Jurassic Park. Deborah and Skloot continue to go through the materials for a few days, until Skloot sees an envelope and wonders aloud if it contains Henrietta's medical records. Deborah grabs the envelope and runs out, telling Skloot she no longer knows who to trust.


Skloot's actions show she is serious about her research and is being honest with Deborah and the family. She shares what she learns and who she sees with Deborah, even though Deborah hasn't agreed to speak with her. James Pullum's reaction to Skloot's phone calls sets the boundaries for her, which leads her later to promise to set up a foundation to help the Lacks family with expenses. Skloot is the first person who offers to find a way to help the Lackses financially, but this isn't the only reason Deborah agrees to work with her. Deborah makes sure Skloot will help her find the information she needs to know. This agreement begins a long journey for the two women; the journey's not always a smooth one, but it results in a very close relationship.

The incident with the medical records makes Deborah flash back to Cofield's intention to take the records away from her, and the publication of the records in Michael Gold's book without the family's permission or knowledge. Deborah has been lied to and manipulated by so many people that when she finally meets Skloot it's hard for her to let go of her fear and trust in another journalist. But Skloot makes it clear she wants to help the Lacks family, and Deborah comes to believe her.

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