Summary: Chapter 32

Deborah and Zakariyya accompanied Skloot to visit Lengauer at Hopkins in order to see the HeLa cells. Day’s health had deteriorated too much to make the trip, Sonny had to work, and Lawrence still wanted to sue Hopkins.

Lengauer thanked them for coming and acknowledged how difficult it must have been for Deborah and Zakariyya to come into a Hopkins lab. He showed them the freezer where HeLa samples were kept and noted that the HeLa contamination seemed like poetic justice for science’s mistreatment of the Lacks family. He handed Deborah a vial of HeLa cells, which Deborah kissed. Lengauer then showed Deborah and Zakariyya how to look at the cells under a microscope. They spent the next half hour learning about cells. Lengauer answered many of their questions about Henrietta’s illness and cells. Deborah and Zakariyya were shocked to hear Lengauer admit that Johns Hopkins had made a mistake in their treatment of the Lacks family. He also believed that the family should be entitled to some of the profit made from HeLa cells. The meeting ended with Lengauer giving both Lackses his phone number and telling them to call him with any other questions about cells.

Summary: Chapter 33

The next day, Skloot and Deborah went to Crownsville to see if they could find any record of what happened to Elsie. They met with Paul Lurz, director of performance and improvement. He warned Deborah that Crownsville in the 40s and 50s, when it was called the Hospital for the Negro Insane, had not been a good place.

Deborah explained that Elsie had frequent seizures, but she thought some of Elsie’s problems may have stemmed from deafness. Lurz managed to find Elsie’s autopsy report along with a photograph. The photograph, in contrast to Elsie’s childhood photos, was horrific, and showed that Elsie clearly suffered neglect.

Deborah submitted a written request for a photocopy of Elsie’s autopsy report. While Lurz made copies, he showed her a 1958 newspaper article about how overcrowding at the hospital led to the death of patients. The details were harrowing. Doctors conducted research on patients without consent, including a painful procedure called pneumoencephalography, which involves replacing the fluid that protects the brain with helium in order to x-ray the skull. The hospital conducted pneumoencephalography on epileptic children, and Elsie likely would have been included.

Despite Deborah’s clear shock, she insisted she still wanted to go to the Maryland State Records Archive to see if Elsie’s medical records had survived. They hadn’t. Deborah clearly wasn’t handling the stress of the day well. At the end of the day, when they had checked into their hotel rooms, Deborah brought Skloot Henrietta’s medical records.