ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — October 4 marks 72 years since Roanoke native Henrietta Lacks passed away after her battle with cancer. Now, Star City is honoring and recognizing her for her contributions to modern medicine and the world, something many consider to be long overdue.

A crowd of about a hundred cheered as they witnessed the monument honoring Henrietta Lacks being debuted for the first time, a woman said to be a medical miracle.

The crowd cheers as the Henrietta Lacks statue is revealed. (Video Courtesy: Hazelmarie Anderson/ WFXR News)

“Yesteryear is now today with her cells and with her legacy. I hope it carries on,” said Leslie Terry, a Roanoke Resident.

After the married mother of five died in 1951, doctors took samples of Lack’s tumor without her permission. They soon made the shocking discovery that, unlike most cells, Lacks cells didn’t die like most people. Instead, they continued regenerating.

“She literally changed the world, and it, it is somewhat biblical when you think about it,” shared Lacks family attorney Ben Crump.

Henrietta Lacks Plaza (Hazelmarie Anderson/ WFXR News)

Known as HeLa cells, they have been used in countless medical studies that paved the way for advancements in HIV, Polio, In vitro fertilization, gene mapping, and cancer treatments. Those same cells are still being used today. However, the identity of the woman who contributed these virtually immortal cells remained unknown until decades after her death.

“She is the history lesson for all medical institutions, research centers, physicians, and scientists,” said Crump.

(Hazelmarie Anderson/ WFXR News)

“Her legacy means something to more than just the city of Roanoke,” Terry said.

Roanoke artist Bryce Cobbs created the drawing that Blacksburg sculptor Larry Bechtel used to build the statue. Cobbs said he wanted to portray Lacks as a powerful and dignified figure.

“I wanted the pose to be something that showed a lot of dignity and kind of invited people to kind of walk up to it. And if you didn’t know who Henrietta Lacks was, I feel like this pose, and this statue will pique your interest now,” said Cobbs.

When the Roanoke City Council voted in 2021 to remove the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from ‘Lee Plaza.’ It was decided to give Henrietta Lacks the honor she had been denied. Now, her statue stands on the pedestal once reserved for a Confederate General.

let us draw strength from her story.”

Mayor Sherman Lea

(Hazelmarie Anderson/ WFXR News)

The community raised over $180,000 for the statue for the newly renamed Henrietta Lacks Plaza.

Earlier this year, Henrietta Lacks’ family settled a lawsuit against one of the Biotech firms that used her cells without their permission. The terms of the settlement were confidential. However, another lawsuit with a separate Biotech firm is still underway.

Thom Brewer contributed to this report.