Common book makes family connection with local student

News Release Date: 

By Kurt Moore of The Marion Star

MARION — An Ohio State University at Marion freshman got a bit of a surprise when he read the common book selected for this year’s incoming class and discovered a connection.

The common book was “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which centers around a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells were unknowingly taken and stored without her permission in 1951. They later were used for scientific advances including the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, and in vitro fertilization. Tyler Lacks, an Upper Arlington student, was reading the book when his dad noticed the title.

“My dad was weirded out we had the same last name,” he said. When they talked about how Henrietta had lived in Clover, Va., Tyler’s dad told him that Tyler’s great-grandfather had lived there and owned a tobacco farm.

The book identifies Tommy Lacks, who would be Tyler’s great-grandfather, as the grandfather who raised Henrietta. It also refers to Albert Lacks, another ancestor of Tyler'’s, as Henrietta’'s “white great-grandfather” who had five children by a former slave.

“"It was cool, part of my family history,"” Tyler said about the discovery. "“It'’s just kind of weird I know someone in the book.”"

The common book serves as incoming students’ first assignment. They are expected to buy and read it and be ready to discuss it at freshman orientation.

The story about Henrietta, who would be known as HeLa by scientists who used her cells, contributed to a discussion on bioethics and what people should expect when seeking medical treatment.