Dr Oz: ‘The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks’
Have you ever heard of HeLa cells? They’re immortal cells that have forever changed medicine. But Dr Oz never actually knew that HeLa stands for Henrietta Lacks, until his friend Oprah gave him a call. Finally, in 2017, 65 years after Henrietta’s death, her story is being shared with the world. It was first shared in a book titled “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” that has been on The New York Times’ Best Seller’s list for six years. Now, her story is being shared in an HBO movie starring Oprah and Rose Byrn.
Oprah, Rose Byrn, and author Rebecca Skloot all joined Dr Oz to share the story behind the science that forever changed health in America.
Dr Oz: HeLa Cells & Henrietta Lacks
In 1951, a 31-year-old woman was lying in a Johns Hopkins Hospital operating room, dying of cervical cancer. Her name was Henrietta Lacks. Cells of her tumor were removed by a surgeon just before she passed and scientists named them HeLa cells. Back then, every cancer patient at Johns Hopkins had their cells harvested without their knowledge. Scientists used those cells in a search for cancer. They were looking for “immortal cells” or cells that would reproduce for years on end to teach them how cancer spreads and how it could be killed.
Those cells were found for the first time ever in Henrietta Lacks and those cells still replicate today. Those cells have played a role in some of the biggest medical innovations over the last 65 years. But Henrietta’s family never truly understood how important Henrietta’s cells were to the world of medicine. Now, her story is finally being told so that millions more can learn about it.
Dr Oz: Henrietta Lacks’ HeLa Cells
Oprah and actress Rose Byrn walked out on set to a standing ovation, although it wasn’t too long ago that Oprah had visited The Dr Oz Show for other reasons. Dr Oz thanked Oprah and Rose for shining a lot on a topic that so many people don’t know about, especially outside of the medical community but even within it.
Dr Oz actually remembered Oprah asking him about HeLa cells years ago and Oprah explained that she had been in Baltimore for years but had never heard of HeLa cells or Henrietta Lacks. But when Dr Oz was asked about it, he told Oprah he knew about the cells, but not about Henrietta Lacks. She realized at that point that if she didn’t know and Dr Oz didn’t know, it was time for her to purchase the book and find a way to share her story even more.
As Oprah explained, in the movie she plays Deborah Lacks, the daughter of Henrietta. The story begins as Deborah seemingly “searches for herself.” She knew she had a mother and everyone knew Deborah was her daughter, but no one wanted to talk about her. Back in the day, no one really knew the name of what caused Henrietta to die and would only refer to it as “female troubles.” Deborah simply wanted to know more about who her mother was and in finding that out, she learns about herself.
Dr Oz: Rose Byrn As Rebecca Skloot
Rose, who plays author Rebecca Skloot in the movie, explained that Rebecca is purposefully a one-dimensional character in the book because as a journalist, Rebecca never intended to have herself in the book. But Rebecca is one of many people who have come to the Lacks family wanting something although often being taken advantage of. Somewhere along the line, Rebecca realized she was a part of the story.
Oprah, who Deborah herself actually wanted to play her, shared that she was actually traveling to Maryland for a birthday party and along the ride to the home happened to look up from her phone and see that she was stopped at the Crownsville intersection. Crownsville was actually in the script! “That is not a coincidence!” Oprah exclaimed.