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The Ballad of Poor Henrietta

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This is a story of Henrietta Lacks and a little bit of George Gey, who fate brought together in its always unpredictable way to create one of the most important contributions to medical science of the twentieth century. And yet, the way that it happened, more a product of systems and cultures of the time than purposeful malfeasance, still rings with some injustice or at least a failing to see the whole human side of the story.  

Dr. George Gey from Johns Hopkins Hospital
Was looking for cells that would be reproducible
Of their own accord for the benefit of medicine
And lo and behold one day found the perfect specimen
And how he acquired it didn't rattle his conscience
Because there weren't any rules then that governed the science
So he made them immortal or maybe God did that
Then he gave them to others who sold them for profit
And the cells multiplied and aided discovery
And they probably will help cure cancer one day

But where did they come from, the specimen's human?
Those cells were extracted from a mother, wife, woman
Poor Henrietta or maybe Loretta
Was a work-a-day lady who hailed from Virginia
She married her cousin and bore him five children
Then after the war steel work took them to Maryland 
One winter's day Hennie felt her womb knotted
"Hennie," said Day, "we should go to Johns Hopkins"
"Henrietta, you're pregnant but there's something else growing
And what's in your system for sure we're not knowing" 
So commencing the testing and treatment for cancers
But for all of the prodding came not any answers

At age thirty-one Henrietta died painful
And to her baby Deborah she'd be a guiding angel
So imagine her shock when she learned about HeLa
The cell line immortal that came from her mama
As reporters and charlatans flocked to their family
Some of them claimed they could gather owed money
But more than the money was the need to acknowledge
What their mother had given and pay her due homage

So bear with me now as I offer this paraphrase
Of the beautiful refrain that her headstone articulates:

In loving memory of phenomenal Hennie
A woman wife mother who touched the lives of many
Here lies HeLa her cells helping mankind eternally
As the Love forever to you from your family

Copyright © | Year Posted 2016




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Date: 2/6/2017 7:26:00 PM
Heart-touching ballad, Andrew. Wonderful. Solomon Ochwo-Oburu
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Date: 2/5/2017 3:29:00 PM
If Deborah was Henrietta's baby, HeLa a cancerous cell? "The cell line immortal that came from her mama"...the perfect specimen? However, it was great to write a ballad to her memory, painful as it was.
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Date: 1/27/2017 6:50:00 PM
Hi Andrew: Beautiful ballad poem!
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Date: 1/27/2017 12:47:00 PM
Marvelous piece Andrew.. keep up the good work!
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Date: 1/26/2017 8:23:00 PM
Very interesting story you have told.
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Date: 1/26/2017 8:16:00 PM
Interesting read... makes you think. If you ever want anyone to talk to on Poetry Soup I'm here :)
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Date: 5/20/2016 8:12:00 PM
Thank you. Through your poetry creation, you have taught me something. I know this poem was not an easy write or maybe it was for you, but it wouldn't be for me.. Wonderful.. Thank you..
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