4Viktor Zhdanov & Donald Henderson
While most extinctions are really nothing mankind should brag about (except for that smartass giant bear), the successful war humanity waged against the Variola virus--better known as smallpox--spanned over 10,000 years, claimed 500 million lives, required a U.S./Soviet alliance to crush and is generally something that the entire world can be proud of.
Like this, only real.
It all started in 1958, when the sinister-sounding Dr. Viktor Zhdanov, Deputy Minister of Health for the USSR, proposed to the World Health Assembly that a global effort be launched to eradicate smallpox: one of the oldest, deadliest and most painful diseases in human history. Since this offered the Free World their best chance to do something productive with the Soviets now that Yuri's Revenge was over, the planet held on to their butts, and signed off on the idea.
The initiative was accepted, and eventually headed by American physician Donald Henderson, M.D., who basically agreed to play the role of Dr. House for the duration of the whole world-saving thing. Thanks to Dr. Zhdanov's brilliant (and we can't help but suspect secretly evil) vision and Dr. Henderson's American-made true grit, these real life Avengers won humanity's war against smallpox through globally-administered teamwork and vaccinations.
However, the virus is still alive in laboratories under round-the-clock supervision by U.S. and Russian personnel just in case, you know, either side chooses to weaponize their sample.
Hey, even if these guys don't show up, we still have plenty of brave Russian soldiers we can count on to stop the other Russians for us.
Henrietta Lacks, a poor tobacco farmer and mother of five, remains one of the most uncanny people who ever lived due to her possession of what the Marvel Universe describes as a regenerative "healing factor." How else can you describe a person who continues saving lives more than 60 years after being "dead"? Wait, why put "dead" in quotes?
On February 1, 1951, Henrietta Lacks visited Johns Hopkins for treatment of what she soon learned was cervical cancer. Because this was the 1950s, Henrietta was subjected to painful, primitive radiation treatments more befitting a Hulk origin story than a human body. Never mind the discrimination of being a poor, black woman in a segregated hospital.
On October 4, 1951, Henrietta died at 31 of uremic poisoning, and was buried without a tombstone.
Jesus Christ... cue bunnies.
Her doctors were unable to save her, but noticed something unusual about her cells. It turned out they "could be kept alive and grow," even after cell division. While this may not sound like much of a big deal, it was essentially the medical equivalent of owning a chunk of Wolverine in a Petri dish. The doctors toyed around with Henrietta's name, ultimately dubbing them HeLa cells. Seriously. HeLa.
A HeLa cell.
So they started growing these cells, using them for research into "cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping and countless other scientific pursuits." And growing them. And growing them.
As of today, 50 million metric tons of Henrietta's "immortal" cells have been grown (enough to outweigh 100 Empire State Buildings). In 1952 alone, Henrietta's HeLa cells helped save millions of people (mostly children) during the worst years of the polio epidemic. Name a disease and a date (past, present or future) - and Henrietta's remarkable, unsung role in human history was to help find some way to cure it.
However, Henrietta's story also has a flipside: In one of the most dick moves in medical history, all of this was done behind the back of Henrietta's family, who continued to live in poverty while the medical community regularly reincarnated the family superheroine. Should you wish to show your gratitude to this Superwoman whose mutant powers literally "saved the world", her foundation is accepting donations to finance scholarships for her great-grandchildren. We suggest donating soon, lest their tragic plight fill them with rage and bitterness against humanity. Just in case that whole mutant healing factor thing turns out to be hereditary.