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Lacks family: Henrietta "will always live"

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Ohio Northern University welcomed two very special people to the Freed Center for a cozy evening of stories and laughter. For the students, it was a learning experience, but for the two women who came to visit the campus, it was an opportunity to share their grandmother's story, the amazing phenomenon of Henrietta Lacks. 

Lacks' granddaughter, Kim Lacks, and great-granddaughter, Veronica Spencer, visited the Freed Center to present a slideshow presentation of pictures and stories about their grandmother, whose lifestyle inspired the novel, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," the 2013 summer reading novel for freshmen. 

Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 from cervical cancer, but she continued to live on past her death, not just in Rebecca Skloot’s novel, but also in the scientific world. Her cells continued to live past her death. They never died; this was quite unusual for scientists, and the cells continue to live today. Her cells have helped researchers find cures for polio and create several other vaccines. Her cells, properly known as HeLa cells, will continue to grow and live forever. 

The Lacks family was skeptical about the media learning information about their mother's unique cells at first, and they had a good reason for being hesitant toward the media. John Hopkins Hospital did not ask for permission before studying Lacks' cells. Today, that would be against the law, but in the 1950s, it was okay to use human cells for experiments without the patient's formal consent. Luckily, the HeLa cells have created amazing things in medicine, but Henrietta Lacks' story is so inspirational that it had to be told. It continues to be a story worth telling, and for Kim Lacks and Veronica Spencer, the story never grows old. 

The slideshow presentation contained dozens of pictures of the Lacks family throughout the years. It showed the rare photographs of Henrietta Lacks, the town she grew up in and her tombstone. It also contained pictures of the Lacks family at various events and public engagements, and they also had a wide smile on their faces. 

Then, a picture showed a blown-up photograph of the HeLa cells. It was very colorful and it definitely looked beautiful to view. For the two women, it was amazing seeing their grandmother's cells in person. When they were able to hold the test tube in their hands, it was amazing. 

"We felt like she was there with us," the women stated as they looked fondly at the pictures of their grandmother’s cells. 

After the slideshow presentation, the women answered questions from the audience about topics concerning their grandmother, how they feel about the current medical field and how long will the HeLa cells exist in society. 

"Forever," they simple stated. "She will always live." 

Even though Henrietta Lacks passed away in 1951, she continues to live through the medical experiments of her cells, but most importantly, she continues to live through the stories people share. Her book will always be available to readers, and her grandchildren are always eager to tell her amazing story. 

Henrietta Lacks will never die. She's immortal, and her story will always be one worth sharing. 

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