Why did Pattillo agree to help Rebecca Skloot contact Henrietta's family in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Roland Patillo is a gynecology professor at Morehouse School of Medicine.  He was a student at John Hopkins University when George Gey was able to grow cells from Henrietta’s biopsy.  He organized a HeLa woman’s health conference that continues to take place each year.  Skloot contacted him because he was there.  He decided to help her contact the Lacks family because he thought her story should be told.  He knew exactly where the HeLa cells came from.  He thought others should too.  He even donated Henrietta’s headstone later on.  He also serves on the board of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which provides scholarship to family members and others negatively affected by scientific research.

A few weeks after Deborah came home from the hospital, Roland Pattillo left a message on her answering machine saying he’d been talking to a reporter who wanted to write a book about Henrietta and her cells, and he thought Deborah should talk to her. (ch 28, p. 231)

It was difficult for Skloot to get members of the family to talk to her.  Pattillo really paved the way.  The family respected his efforts to keep Henrietta’s legacy alive, and return pride to the family.  Her cells were used without her knowledge, and people made millions of dollars off of them while the family got nothing.  Skloot’s book was a chance for them to tell their story too.


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