The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Johns Hopkins Symbol Icon

Like many symbols within the book, the research university and hospital of Johns Hopkins is a double-edged sword. Founded specifically to help the poor and minorities, it emblemizes cutting-edge medical advances and high quality of care. On the other hand, in the 1950s Johns Hopkins had segregated wards, and subscribed to practices that were generally racist, sexist, and classist. Henrietta’s doctors did not keep her informed about her condition, nor did they tell either her or her family that they were taking the tissue samples that would eventually become HeLa. Indeed, for the Lackses, Johns Hopkins represents a criminally negligent institution that actively attempted to keep them in the dark about profits made off of Henrietta’s cells. Rebecca comments upon both the good and the bad parts of Hopkins, ensuring that readers understand its complex and troubling legacy.

Johns Hopkins Quotes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks quotes below all refer to the symbol of Johns Hopkins. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks published in 2010.
Chapter 1 Quotes

For Henrietta, walking into Hopkins was like entering a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language…she’d never heard the words cervix or biopsy. She didn’t read or write much, and she hadn’t studied science in school. She, like most black patients, only went to Hopkins when she thought she had no choice.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: Johns Hopkins
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca begins Henrietta's story at Johns Hopkins, a hospital renowned for its medical accomplishments and for its willingness to treat poor and minority patients. The narrative, however, questions Hopkins' inclusivity, noting how "foreign" and intimidating it would have seemed to Henrietta.

The narrator also takes this opportunity to introduce race as a vital and omnipresent theme throughout the book. She notes that many black patients viewed going to the hospital as a last resort, and later expands on the American medical establishment's long history of racism and unethical practices when it came to minority patients.

That Henrietta is willing to go go the hospital despite these circumstances also underlines just how sick she is. Although she fears the hospital, she is in too much pain to avoid going there any longer--an early sign of just how sick she is. 

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Johns Hopkins Symbol Timeline in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The timeline below shows where the symbol Johns Hopkins appears in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Exam
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...29, 1951, and David Lacks, Henrietta’s husband, is waiting with his three children outside Johns Hopkins Hospital. A few minutes earlier, Henrietta had entered the hospital, gone past the “colored” bathroom,... (full context)
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...when it tests negative for the STI, he tells her to go to the Johns Hopkins gynecology clinic. (full context)
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At this time, Hopkins was “one of the top hospitals in the country.” Built as a charity hospital in... (full context)
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...unsurprising that Henrietta didn’t return for follow-ups; “like most black patients,” she only went to Hopkins when it was the only option. (full context)
Chapter 3: Diagnosis and Treatment
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The narrative returns to 1951. After visiting Hopkins, Henrietta gets a diagnosis: she has a type of cervical cancer called epidermoid carcinoma. “Carcinoma”... (full context)
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...“all medical records and biopsies from patients who’d been diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer at Hopkins in the past decade” to see how many cases had started out as in situ.... (full context)
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For tissue samples, TeLinde went to George Gey, Hopkins’ head of tissue culture research. Along with his wife Margaret Gey, George Gey had been... (full context)
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...one in her family about the news, but asks her husband to take her to Hopkins the next day. She assures Day and the children that nothing is wrong. In the... (full context)
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...it was marketed as a cure-all in the 1800s. It also, however, kills cancer cells. Hopkins had used radium since the early 20th century, following the lead of Dr. Howard Kelly,... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Birth of HeLa
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...with a “time-lapse motion picture camera to capture live cells on film.” He worked in Hopkins’basement, and employed a lab assistant to sleep by the camera at night to ensure that... (full context)
Chapter 5: Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside
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...tumor seems to be shrinking. Henrietta starts X-ray therapy, which means that she must visit Hopkins every weekday for a month. In order to make the appointments, Henrietta will need to... (full context)
Chapter 8: A Miserable Specimen
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Rebecca returns to Henrietta’s medical records, which show that she returned to Hopkins complaining of discomfort, but was told that she was fine. Two and a half weeks... (full context)
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...Henrietta’s cries of pain from a block away. When Day takes his wife back to Hopkins for X-rays the next week, doctors find tumors on her uterus, on both her kidneys,... (full context)
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...radiation continues to burn her skin and her pain becomes even worse, Henrietta arrives at Hopkins on August 8 and says that she wants to stay there. A nurse draws her... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Storm
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...HeLa. Although there’s no law about taking cells from a living patient, the doctors at Hopkins must ask Day whether they can remove tissue from Henrietta’s dead body. When they first... (full context)
Chapter 14: Helen Lane
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Gey sends Berg’sletter to TeLinde and other officials at Hopkins asking what he should do. TeLinde replies that the story can still be “interesting” without... (full context)
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...how these two pieces of misinformation originated, but that they likely came from someone in Hopkins. (full context)
Chapter 21: Night Doctors
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...that studying Henrietta’s tissues would help his children and grandchildren. Bobbette chimes in, asserting that Hopkins can’t be trusted when it comes to “black folks.” Sonny agrees, and the family grows... (full context)
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...medical schools would dig up black bodies for research. Black residents of Baltimore believed that Hopkins was built close to poor black families in order to have easy access to research... (full context)
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In fact, Johns Hopkins was originally founded in order to create a medical school and charity hospital “without regard... (full context)
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However, Hopkins also betrayed its original mission to help black patients. In 1969, a Hopkins researcher tested... (full context)
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At Lawrence’shouse, Sonny and Bobbette continue to trade conspiracy theories about Hopkins. Eventually, Sonny and Lawrence begin to complain about all the money that Hopkins has made... (full context)
Chapter 22: “The Fame She So Richly Deserves”
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A few months after George Gey dies, Howard Jones and several other Hopkins doctors, including a geneticist named Victor McKusick, start writing an article about the history of... (full context)
Chapter 23: “It’s Alive”
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...from a woman named Henrietta who died of cervical cancer in the fifties at Johns Hopkins. (full context)
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...Bobbette returns home, yelling to Lawrence that part of Henrietta is still alive. Lawrence contacts Hopkins, and he explains that he’s Henrietta’s son, and says that they still have “some of... (full context)
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...is present, and says that he can help. Since the Lackses are still patients at Hopkins, they will be easy to find. (full context)
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...Susan Hsu, he calls his children, telling them to gather at the house so that Hopkins doctors can test their blood for cancer. Deborah, now twenty-four, is terrified, believing that she... (full context)
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...allows Susan Hsu and her colleagues to draw blood from them. Afterwards, Deborah repeatedly calls Hopkins to ask about her “cancer results,” but no one knows what she is talking about.... (full context)
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Deborah meets McKusick when she goes to Hopkins to give blood. McKusick tells her that “Henrietta has made an important contribution to science.”... (full context)
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...photo’s origin, but supposes that the Lackses must have given it to a doctor at Hopkins, like Howard Jones. He also doesn’t remember speaking to Deborah—he says that only Susan Hsu... (full context)
Chapter 24: “Least They Can Do”
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...are making money off of the cells. They become certain that George Gey and Johns Hopkins stole Henrietta’s cells for profit. Rebecca reveals that George Gey never made money off of... (full context)
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...and giving them out to customers at Lawrence’s store. Deborah, meanwhile, doesn’t want to fight Hopkins; instead, she is trying to educate herself about HeLa. As she painstakingly reads science textbooks,... (full context)
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...has cancer, while Sonny and Lawrence are trying to strategize ways to get money from Hopkins. Rebecca then introduces the story of John Moore, a man who sued for the profits... (full context)
Chapter 25: “Who Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?”
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...national debate, although they are still attempting to publicize what they believe to be Johns Hopkins’crimes. (full context)
Chapter 26: Breach of Privacy
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Deborah learns that she can request Henrietta’s medical records from Hopkins, but she delays doing so out of fear. In 1985, a university publishes a book... (full context)
Chapter 28: After London
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...in front of the House of Representatives. Wyche next writes to the president of Johns Hopkins, William Brody, asking for acknowledgement of the ethical questions surrounding Hopkins’ treatment of Henrietta. An... (full context)
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...lawyer, that she should copyright the name of Henrietta Lacks, and that she should sue Hopkins. Cofield begins researching Henrietta’s records at Hopkins, telling the Lackses that Henrietta’s doctors are guilty... (full context)
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...Lawrence, Courtney Speed, the Henrietta Lacks Health History Museum Foundation, and a long list of Hopkins officials.”Cofield begins intimidating the Lackses. Deborah panics and breaks down in Speed’s store, saying that... (full context)
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...Deborah doesn’t have answers, and decides to request a copy of Henrietta’s medical records from Hopkins—as well as records for Elsie. She also meets with Kidwell, who pledges that Hopkins will... (full context)
Chapter 29: A Village of Henriettas
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...that Deborah has written to Henrietta, as well as many articles. Deborah expresses suspicion that Hopkins is still experimenting on “black folks,” and wonders if they have cloned Henrietta without telling... (full context)
Chapter 32: “All That’s My Mother”
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...too ill to come, Sonny has to work, and Lawrence refuses to go to Johns Hopkins (he is also convinced that Rebecca is being paid by Hopkins). On May 11, 2001,... (full context)
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Christoph mentions that he believes Hopkins “screwed up” in the way it treated Henrietta. He tells the shocked Deborah that he... (full context)
Chapter 38: The Long Road to Clover
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...baptism, “not much changed for the Lackses.” Lawrence and Zakariyya occasionally think about suing Johns Hopkins, Sonny has a quintuple bypass and ends up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt,... (full context)