Is Kindness Contagious?

By Katelyn Millinor, LPC | Behavioral Health Quality Manager

Being kind to others is known to have lasting effects on our mental and physical health. But have you heard that kindness is contagious? That’s because it is!

Being kind lights up the pleasure center of the brain and releases serotonin and oxytocin.

  • Serotonin centers our mood, happiness, and overall feelings of well-being.
  • Oxytocin, often known as the “love hormone” controls social interactions, triggers the bond between mother and infant, and so much more.

The release of the hormone oxytocin is tied to decreasing blood pressure and reducing inflammation. Therefore, kindness feels good and is actually good for you.

Catching Kindness

Have you ever had a stranger pay for your coffee or hold the door for you? Experiencing an act of kindness can bring a smile to your face and improve your mood. In today’s fast-paced world, these gestures can be even more meaningful. Kindness benefits both the giver and the receiver. 

We often attach kindness to feelings of happiness. We may think of happiness as a mood or emotion, but really we are usually just feeling neutral which can make you feel cheerful. The feeling of happiness comes and goes with things like giving or receiving kindness, giving a compliment, or getting good news.

So, how can you continue giving random acts of kindness during a global pandemic? The possibilities are endless. With technology, people can send thoughtful text messages, social media comments or posts, Zoom or FaceTime interactions, and more. Outside of technology, think about leaving your mail carrier a “Thank you” letter, sending a picture or card to a front-line worker, or simply making a nice comment while picking up your groceries. Here are a few other ways to spread kindness in your day.

Everyone has experienced some sort of increased stress during this pandemic. That’s why kindness – in big and small ways – is more important than ever. Your one random act of kindness could change someone’s day and start a chain reaction of kindness!

How to Set and Evaluate New Goals

By Nicole Vaudrin O’Reilly, MS, RD |Nutrition Educator

A lot of us know what we could do to be healthier. The hard part is putting these ideas into practice.  One way to get motivate around new goals for a healthier life – without becoming overwhelmed or discouraged – is to treat it like a self-experiment. This turns it into a process, rather than the idea of flipping a switch. Best of all, it removes the damaging self-talk that holds many of us back, for example ‘I ate pizza and cake today. I’m no good at dieting. I might as well give up,’ because it isn’t an all-or-nothing process.

This process looks a lot like doing experiments in science class. Here’s how it works:

  1. Ask yourself some questions.
    • What area of my health do I want to improve?
    • Do I want to eat healthier?
    • Would exercising more be good for me?
    • Should I try to get more sleep and reduce my stress?
  2. Research: Take a week or more to study yourself and your habits.
    • Keep a notebook, voice memos, or something similar nearby to write or record what you do during your week.
    • Write or record what you eat, what exercise you do, what causes you stress, what time you go to sleep and wake up, and whatever else you are trying to improve.
    • Then record WHY you made these choices (if you know). For example, if you want to improve your diet, you may want to track:
      • What foods you eat, how much, and what times of day?
      • How you feel throughout the day. Were you feeling– starving, rushed, stressed, bored, anxious, depressed, restless, etc.?
      • Why did you choose those foods?
    • Look for patterns, like eating too much because you skipped a meal, or getting fast food on busy days at work/school, or running late makes you stressed, etc.
  3. Create a plan to reach your new goals: With all that great information you recorded above, think about what would help you make better choices. Choose one or more to try out, for example:
    • If boredom makes you overeat, distract yourself by taking the dog for a walk, stretching, reading, putting away the laundry, or something else not related to food.
    • Drink a glass of water when you want to snack and take that time to decide whether you’re hungry or not.
    • If the food options around are a problem, try cut-up vegetables, fruit, low-fat yogurt, nuts, whole grain crackers, lightly buttered popcorn, etc.
    • If you need more sleep, set a daily timer to head to bed at an earlier time.
  4. Experiment: Try one of your new plans for at least a week and see what happens.
    • Some plans might be ready to go, but others may need to be more specific. Like changing “I will go to sleep earlier” to “I’ll set an alarm to go to bed by 10 p.m.”
  5. Collect and Analyze Information: Keep some notes like in #2 above.
    • How often were you able to meet your goal (every day, two times a week, never)?
    • What helped you be successful? What got in your way?
      • For example, if your goal was to drink a glass of water before snacking, “This seemed to work during the day at work, but I still ate junk food at home while watching TV.”
  6. Go back to your plan and re-test.
    • If you met your goal, congratulations! Keep it going until it becomes a habit.
      • Do regular check-ins every week in the beginning and then monthly as you build new habits.
    • If you didn’t meet your goal, change your plan and try again.
      • You continue to drink water during the day when at work, and then add a new goal to only buy healthier snacks for TV time.

Whatever your new goals are, we know you can make progress! NOAH’s comprehensive team is here to support and guide you through this process. If you want to reduce stress, our behavioral health team is here for you, and if you want to make healthier choices with food and exercise, our nutrition services team can help you and review your goals regularly. By doing self-experiments, you learn more about yourself and how to work with your preferences and current habits to make healthy changes.

Honoring Black History in Healthcare: Week 4 – Enslaved Women and Modern Gynecology

Throughout February, NOAH will share and honor Black History Month with snapshots of just a few of the important, impactful, and life-saving stories of Black history in healthcare in America. One of our primary goals at NOAH is ensure quality healthcare for every member of our community. To do that, we will look at where we have been, what we have accomplished, and how we will collectively achieve this goal.

Enslaved Women and Modern Gynecology

By By Jennifer Perry, MD, PGY-3

Dr. James Marion Sims has been named the “father of modern gynecology” for his contribution of tools, such as the speculum, and surgical techniques related to women’s health. He was named president of the American Medical Association in 1876 and president of the American Gynecological Society in 1880. However, Dr. Sims’ success has overshadowed the suffering of enslaved women that contributed to his work.

Seven women participated in Dr. Sims’ experimentation over a four-year period. Lucy, an 18-year-old who was unable to control her bladder after a traumatic birth, was his first subject. She had a vesicovaginal fistula, a connection between the bladder and uterus which wasn’t uncommon for women who endured traumatic deliveries in the 19th century. Dr. Sims placed naked Lucy on her knees and elbows with her head in her hands for the procedure while several male doctors watched. The entire surgery was conducted without anesthesia. As imagined, Lucy experienced extreme pain as Dr. Sims operated. A sponge was placed in Lucy’s bladder to drain the urine, which led to severe infection. Lucy almost lost her life, but this did not stop Dr. Sims from performing a similar procedure on six other enslaved women.

Enslaved women were considered property and did not need to give their consent for medical procedures. Dr. Sims performed more than 30 surgeries on one woman, Anarcha, without anesthesia. Despite reports of displayed agony, including screaming, it was believed that Black people did not experience pain like White people, so anesthesia was not utilized. However, once Dr. Sims perfected his technique, he performed surgery on White women under anesthesia.

Statues of Dr. Sims have been erected in Central Park and Philadelphia in dedication to his contribution to medicine. Those statues have sparked many protests because of the controversy of honoring a man who performed non-consensual medical experiments on Black women. The New York City statue was moved out of Central Park in 2018, and to Dr. Sims gravesite in Brooklyn, NY. In the same year, the monument in Philadelphia was removed and replaced by a plaque that educates the public of the origins of the monument and the Black females whose bodies were used for the advancement of medicine.

To learn more about the medical ethics involved with this story, read this article from the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Read our other Black History in Healthcare stories:

Week 1: The Innovations of Dr. Charles Richard Drew

Week 2: Understanding the Tuskegee Study

Week 3: The Lasting Impact of Henrietta Lacks

Dental Tips for National Children’s Dental Health Month

By Nicollette Villescaz, Pediatric Dental Assistant

Even as the shortest month, February brings a lot of holidays and awareness topics. One awareness topic not to be missed is National Children’s Dental Health Month! My name is Nicollette and I am a professional pediatric dental assistant here at NOAH. I’m going to share pediatric dental tips on how parents and caregivers, along with your child’s dental team can work together to prevent tooth decay, which is the number one dental problem for preschoolers with around 50% of children having one or more cavities by age 5.

Dental tips to prevent tooth decay in your child

The best way to ensure healthy teeth is to prevent problems before they start. Things like having a healthy diet, proper brushing and flossing habits, and not having sugary drinks from baby bottles can help protect your child’s teeth.

Rethink your drinks

As parents and guardians of young children, we know that a healthy diet is important, and we shouldn’t give them candy and sweets too often. However, it’s actually what children drink, not what they eat that is more dangerous to their teeth. I have heard and seen our NOAH dentists and medical doctors express repeatedly how bad juice, soda, energy drinks, Gatorade, and lemonade are for children. They aren’t bad for kids just because of the artificial flavors, and dye colorings, but also because of the high amounts of acid and sugar. These drinks have too much sugar and acid for kids of any age. The only fluids a child needs are plenty of water (especially in this desert heat) and milk for nutrients like calcium. When parents and caregivers give children acid and sugars to eat and drink we are putting them at a greater risk for tooth pain caused by cavities.

Brush and floss

Children and parents need to know the right way to brush and floss those little teeth because baby teeth are so important to keep healthy. Our top priority when children and parents or caregivers come to NOAH Dental is education and prevention. There are stages to this as kids grow:

  1. As soon as teeth appear, it’s time to brush! A few tiny baby teeth need just a small amount of cleaning.
  2. When more teeth arrive, increase brushing. Parents and guardians need to help children brush their teeth twice a day. Kids can’t brush all the cavity-causing germs and crumbs away by themselves.
  3. Once a child is old enough to brush their own hair or tie their own shoes, then they can start to brush and floss on their own.
  4. Stay consistent at every stage. A dental hygiene routine is vital to healthy teeth.

Ditch the bottle

The biggest contributor to cavities in our infant and toddler patients is the bottle! Babies should never have anything other than water or milk. Once a child is a year old, they should only have milk with meals, not nap times or throughout the day – stick to water for that! Letting kids drink milk or juice any time of the day, puts them at risk for tooth pain caused by cavities.

Care for those baby teeth

Too often I hear parents or guardians say, “They are just baby teeth, it’s not so serious,” and “They will be falling out anyway.” This is where our dental education is so important! Children experience the same effects of a toothache exactly how an adult would, with cold sensitivity, difficulty drinking or eating, throbbing pain, swelling, infections, and difficulty sleeping. Children need healthy teeth to help them chew and speak clearly. Plus, baby teeth hold the space for their adult teeth to come in correctly.

Cavities and dental pain are preventable in children. The NOAH Dental team works together with parents and guardians to keep away tooth decay and pain away in children. To learn more, visit our NOAH Dental page for helpful videos and tips. If you are ready for you or your child to see a NOAH dentist, make an appointment today!

ACA Open Enrollment is Here!

Having health insurance is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and your family. Whether it’s through an employer, the Health Insurance Marketplace, or Arizona’s Medicaid offering AHCCCS, there are different insurance options available. Knowing the best plan for you and your family is important and NOAH is here to help during Open Enrollment.

Starting February 15, you can enroll in a health insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace that fits your needs. NOAH Community Resource Specialists can provide you with information about several different options and can help complete paperwork virtually with you to see if you qualify for some of the available plans.

The Health Insurance Marketplace

Often referred to as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace or Obamacare, the Health Insurance Marketplace helps more Americans have access to health insurance. If you aren’t covered under an employee plan, or don’t qualify for Medicaid/AHCCCS, you can get insurance through the Marketplace. In Arizona, there are several different providers to pick from, and different plans to fit your healthcare needs and finances. NOAH’s Certified Application Counselors are available to help you understand your options, eligibility, assist virtually with paperwork, and help with your enrollment in a Health Insurance Marketplace plan.

For health insurance coverage through the Marketplace, the enrollment deadline is August 15.

Other Health Insurance Options

  • Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) – AHCCCS is Arizona’s Medicaid program. There are free and low-cost plans available for individuals and families. To qualify, you need to meet income requirements and be an Arizona resident. AHCCCS is open for enrollment year-round but does need to be renewed annually.
  • KidsCare – If parents are covered under an employer insurance, but kids are not, the KidsCare program can help! KidsCare, often referred to as CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) is offered through AHCCCS and is available for Arizona children under age 19 who meet the income requirement. Like AHCCCS, this health insurance is also open for enrollment year-round. If your family already qualifies for AHCCCS, you don’t need to worry about the separate KidsCare coverage for your children.

If you’ve recently received a letter reminding of your recertification date for AHCCCS or KidsCare, or have had changes to work, income or other health coverage, the NOAH Community Resources Specialists can help with your AHCCCS eligibility and enrollment.

Enrolling in ACA

Health insurance can be complicated. Whether you are enrolling in the Health Insurance Marketplace for the first time, are renewing your AHCCCS plan, or have changes to your policy, it is nice to have support along the way. NOAH has trained, certified team members here to help you with 2021 ACA/Obamacare/Health Insurance Marketplace Open Enrollment, so give us a call at 480-882-4545, or fill out the form here and select “Community Resources – Eligibility” under Type of Appointment. 

REMEMBER – Open enrollment starts Monday, February 15th and closes Sunday, August 15th!

Enjoy Snacking Even More During Snack Food Month

By Stephanie Olzinski, MS, RDN |Nutrition Supervisor

Nutrition comes in all forms, colors, and quality. Most of the time we think of snack food as something less healthy and make our major meals the place to get all those good nutrients we need like proteins, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables. But snacks have a place in healthy lifestyle, especially during National Snack Food Month!

Here are some benefits of snacking and recommendations for fun and satisfying snacks.

Benefits of snacking

  1. Satisfying hunger: Being hungry between meals is not a bad thing! If you body is signaling hunger it usually means it is time to eat. But listen to your body. If you started eating at night because it’s a habit, or turn to a snack during a stressful day, your body might be looking for another form of self-care.
  2. Controlling blood sugars: Diabetes or not, it is important to maintain your blood sugars throughout the day. If we go too long between meals without eating, we risk having our blood sugars drop which can cause shakiness, sweating, lightheadedness, and anxiety. Leave no more than 3-4 hours between eating is recommended.
  3. Meeting calorie and nutrient needs: While calories do not need to be counted every day for most people, remember that all of our organs and body systems need enough calories every day to function properly. We can help by eating enough throughout the day and including good portions of each food group at our meals. Snacks supplement our needs between meals like an extra serving of a fruit, vegetable, or something from the list below.

The best snack choices

Whatever you like! It is best to make pairings just how we do for meals – if we just eat something like chips or celery on its own it won’t keep us full for long. Instead choose a base of a protein or healthy fat which will make the snack more filling. Here are some great examples:

  • String Cheese
  • Turkey Jerky
  • Trail Mix or any type of nut or seed
  • Hummus + Veggies
  • Avocado Toast
  • Hard Boiled Egg
  • Natural Peanut Butter + Celery Stalks + Raisins
  • Cottage Cheese + Veggies or Fruit
  • Edamame
  • Greek Yogurt + Fruit or Peanut Butter
  • Greek Yogurt Dip (plain yogurt with garlic powder, dill, chives, and paprika)
  • Brown Rice Cake + Almond, Peanut, or Sunflower Butter
  • Smoothie (protein base of yogurt, soy milk, protein powder, then add any fruit or vegetable)
banana and peanut butter snacks

Try some the NOAH Nutrition Services team’s favorite snacks:

Banana and Peanut Butter Bites – this snack is quick, easy, and full of protein and potassium (among other nutrients) to help you feel full.

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – this flavorful snack is filling and gives a great kick to keep you satisfied for a while.

Oatmeal Energy Bites – these little bites pack a punch of flavor and energy to start your day or get you through a busy afternoon.

Visit our NOAH recipe page for more snack and meal ideas!

Nutrition Impacts Your Heart Health

By Brandon Bolton, RDN |Nutrition Educator

February is American Heart Month, so let’s raise awareness and support for heart health in the fight against heart disease!

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, and it is the leading cause of death worldwide. There are many risk factors that impact your chances of having heart disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that preventing heart disease starts with knowing what your risk factors are and what you can do to lower them.

Some risk factors for heart disease include:

  • high blood pressure
  • high blood cholesterol
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • lack of physical activity
  • unhealthy eating behaviors

These risk factors can be managed or changed. Some risk factors that cannot be changed include age, sex, and family history of heart disease.

If you have any questions or concerns about potential risk factors, please check with your NOAH healthcare provider!

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I provide nutritional care and guidance for patients with nutrition-related conditions like diabetes and pre-diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight management, digestive issues, food allergies, and more.

Advice to living a heart-healthy life

Heart disease is often preventable when people make healthy changes, including diet and how much activity or exercise they get. Living a heart-healthy life means knowing your risk factors and making good choices to protect your heart and stay healthy. Here are some heart-healthy nutrition and exercise tips:

  • Choose heart-healthy foods and eat a diet that is balanced with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein sources.
    • Try to have at least half of your grain intake come from whole grains such as 100% whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa.
    • Aim for 1-2 cups of fruit daily
    • Aim for 1-3 cups of vegetables daily
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products when having milk, cheese, or yogurt.

Foods to enjoy

  • Lean meats such as 95% lean ground beef or pork tenderloin, or skinless chicken or turkey (limit red meats to one time per week)
    • Fish such as salmon and tuna (try to eat fish as least once per week)
    • Eggs
    • Nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, edamame
    • Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Incorporate foods that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (good fats):
    • Olive oil or avocado oil
    • Fish and seafood
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Nut and seed butters
    • Avocados

Foods to limit

  • Limit high sodium foods. Adults and children 14+ should eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily.
    • Read food labels and choose foods that are lower in sodium. Look for low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added on the food label.
    • Choose fresh, whole foods whenever possible and try to avoid processed foods such as frozen meals.
    • Avoid the saltshaker and flavor foods with herbs and spices instead.
  • Limit saturated fats.
    • Saturated fat is usually found in animal-based proteins such as fatty beef, pork, and chicken skin.
    • It is also found in full-fat dairy products such as whole milk.
    • Butter, lard, coconut and palm oils also contain saturated fats (replace with olive oil).
  • Avoid trans fats.
    • Trans fats can be found in margarine, shortening, processed sweets, baked goods, and some fried foods.
    • Avoid foods with “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list such as cookies, pastries, baked goods, biscuits, crackers, and frozen dinners.
  • Limit foods that are high in added sugars
    • Sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda, fruit juice, sweetened coffees, and energy drinks
    • Sweets and desserts
  • Limit Alcohol

If you have any nutrition questions or need help developing a heart healthy diet plan, please reach out to one of the dietitians here at NOAH and make an appointment today!

It’s About More Than Just Food

By MaKayla Kellor, Case Manager

When you hear the phrase “eating disorders,” your mind immediately thinks about food, but what most people do not know is that eating disorders are so much more than just food. This year, during National Eating Disorder Awareness week, we hope to shed light on the deadliest mental illness, because though eating disorders are characterized by obsession with food, body weight and size, the root of an eating disorder is so much deeper.

What is an eating disorder?

  • A way to feel in control when everything else in your life feels out of control.
  • Numbing your undesirable feelings with lack of nutrition.
  • An attempt to achieve higher self-esteem and perfectionism through body image.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Though they all have their own signs and symptoms, they all have an equally negative impact on someone’s health, emotions, and ability to function in day-to-day life.

People with eating disorders usually do not think they have a problem. Here are some signs and symptoms to look for if you think someone in your life may have an eating disorder:

  • Skipping meals
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Intense dieting
  • Excessively working out
  • Avoiding social activities involving food
  • Eating alone rather than with others
  • Lots of talk about body image or weight
  • Using dietary supplements or laxatives
  • Using the restroom immediately after mealtime
  • Eating much more food than a normal portion
  • Shame or guilt around eating

If you are worried that you, or someone you love, has an eating disorder, the best thing you can do to support them is show them love. Eating disorders, like any addiction, are not easy to let go of. You may feel frustration in the process with your loved one and notice that they are not always honest about their progress in recovering from their eating disorder.

Individuals recovering from an eating disorder need compassion and accountability. It may seem as simple as “just eating,” but the depth of an eating disorder and the control, safety, and comfort it provides individuals is much deeper. The unhealthy coping mechanism is still a coping mechanism that has gotten them through their pain, and it will require a lot of inner work. The goal is to get to the root issue that is being masked with disordered eating patterns. People suffering with an eating disorder can’t get better for someone else, so the best thing you can do is show patience and continuous support.

If you have questions about getting help for you or a loved one through an eating disorder, NOAH’s team can help. Call to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced providers.

Children’s Mental Health & Learning During COVID: A Series

By Zach Clay, Licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy

During this unprecedented and often challenging time in the world, we need to consider the impact everything has on children. The COVID-19 pandemic can be particularly tough for children’s mental health and their ability to learn. NOAH’s Behavioral Health team shares expert insight, best practices, and resources in this series of posts to help children maintain mental health in the era of COVID-19, social distancing, and distance learning.  

Identifying Depression & Developing Coping Skills for Children

Children experience the world around them – the good, the bad, the stressful, the happy, the uncertain – and sometimes need support to navigate everything. In many ways, children are similar to adults with mental health; identifying what is happening, talking about what is happening, and developing healthy coping skills. Here, we highlight ways to identify depression in young children and coping skills that are easy for children to do and remember.

Signs of depression in children

Children who are experiencing depression may show it in a variety of ways. They may express feeling hopeless, helpless, and discouraged and as caregivers, we should listen and help them explain what they are thinking and how they’re feeling. But we must listen without judgement, or without trying to “fix” things. Parents and other caregivers don’t need to agree with what they are saying but do need to let them know that they are heard and supported. For example, “I hear you. That sounds really hard and I’m sorry you are feeling sad. I love you.”

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Changes to sleep patterns
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Sadness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Unusual sadness or irritability, even when circumstances change
  • Reduced feelings of anticipation or excitement
  • Sluggish or lazy
  • Overly critical of themselves, like “I’m ugly.” “I’m no good.” “I’ll never make friends.”
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

It’s important to understand that this is more than a bad day or two, or occasional behavior changes that go away. If you see one or more of these symptoms for two weeks, they can suggest depression and you should make an appointment to get them professional help and support.

Developing coping skills

An important part of managing anxiety and fear is with healthy coping skills. These skills help you deal with stressful situations in a healthy and productive way. Mindfulness techniques are beneficial for all ages and are especially helpful for children. Mindfulness means taking time to focus on the present, be thoughtful about your feelings, focus your thoughts, and be in the moment.

These exercises take a little effort, but the investment is worth it especially now when there is such uncertainty about the future and what our world will be post-pandemic. These activities can make mindfulness work for both parents and children.

  • Squeeze Muscles: Starting at your toes, pick one muscle and squeeze it tight. Count to five. Release, and notice how your body changes. Repeat exercise moving up your body.
  • Belly Breathing: Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Slowly breathe in from your stomach (expand like a balloon) and slowly breathe out (deflate).
  • Meditation: Sit in a relaxed, comfortable position. Pick something to focus on, like your breath. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for just a few minutes.
  • Blowing Bubbles: Notice and talk about their shapes, textures, and colors.
  • Coloring: Color something. Focus on the colors and designs.
  • Listening to Music: Focus on a whole song or listen to a specific voice or an instrument.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a big deal or extra work. Take a few minutes in the morning, after school, before bed, or a time that works for your child and family to practice mindfulness.

NOAH’s comprehensive team of behavioral health experts  can work with you, your child and your entire family to address stresses, depression, coping skills, and more.

Honoring Black History in Healthcare: Week 3 – The Lasting Impact of Henrietta Lacks

Throughout February, NOAH will share and honor Black History Month with snapshots of just a few of the important, impactful, and life-saving stories of Black history and healthcare in America. One of our primary goals at NOAH is ensure quality healthcare for every member of our community. To do that, we will look at where we have been, what we have accomplished, and how we will collectively achieve this goal.

The Lasting Impact of Henrietta Lacks

By Monica Chaung, MD, PGY-3

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a young mother of five, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Doctors at Johns Hopkins collected some of her cancer cells during her biopsy to diagnose the cancer. Some of these cells were sent to Dr. George Grey’s research lab, as was common with many other patients at this time.

The sample cells from other patients Dr. Grey collected and studied quickly died. Henrietta Lacks’ cells, however, were different. Instead of dying, Henrietta’s cells doubled every 20-24 hours. These remarkable cells, named “HeLa” cells after her first and last name, became the first immortal human cell line.  

To this day, researchers continue to use HeLa cells to make scientific and medical discoveries. They have allowed scientists to study the human genome, test the effects of drugs and toxins on human cells, learn more about cancer cells and viruses, and even create the Polio vaccine; all without having to experiment on humans. HeLa cells also have been used to improve our understanding of diseases like tuberculosis and HIV.

Despite her enormous contribution to medicine, however, the way in which Henrietta’s cells were used raised ethical questions. In the 1950s, it was common for extra biopsy samples to be shared and used for research without gaining consent from patients. Standardized informed consent was not common practice.

When Henrietta Lacks consented to the diagnosis and treatment of her cervical cancer, she was not informed that her cells could be collected and used for ongoing research. Additionally, there were no regulations on the use of human cells for research and patients did not have access to their medical records. The ethical concerns surrounding the use of Henrietta Lacks’ cell line have guided policies that now protect patients. These include informed consent, research approval through an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and improving patients’ access to their medical records. 

Henrietta Lacks died at the age of 31, within a short time of her cancer diagnosis. Although her life ended early, Henrietta Lacks’ legacy lives on through her HeLa cells, the impact of her story, and on research and medical ethics.

More on her story can be found in Rebecca Skloots’ book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Read our other Black History Month snapshots:

Week 1: The Innovations of Dr. Charles Richard Drew

Week 2: Understanding the Tuskegee Study

Week 4: Enslaved Women and Modern Gynecology