Remembering the Boy in the Bubble

bubble David Vetter was also known as the “Bubble Boy”. He was born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), and had to spend his short life living in a sterile, plastic, “bubble”. There have been improvements in treatment for SCID since then.

David Vetter was born in 1971 with a disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). This is a rare, hereditary disease, (that is actually a group of different diseases). According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, there are only 40 to 100 babies in the United States diagnosed with SCID each year.

It is caused by a genetic mutation. The most common form is X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID-X1. It is caused by a mutation in a gene on the X chromosome. In order for a girl to be born with this disease, she would have to have inherited the mutation on both of her X chromosomes. Boys only have one X chromosome, therefore, only male children get SCID-X1.

David’s parents, Carol Ann Vetter Demaret, and David J. Vetter, Jr., had two children before David was born. Katherine was born in 1968. David Joseph III was born in 1970. He had SCID. He received a bone marrow transplant from his sister, but it did not take. He died when he was seven months old.

In 1971, David Phillip Vetter was born. He also had SCID, and was immediately placed into a sterile, plastic, bubble that was created by NASA. The purpose was to help him stay healthy, since his disease made it really hard for him to fight off colds, viruses, and infections.

He lived in this bubble his entire life. There were a few times when he was able to “go outside”, while wearing what amounted to a spacesuit. He couldn’t go to school, so a teacher came to him, until later, when his classroom was connected to a speaker that he could listen to. In 1984, not long after receiving a bone marrow transplant from his sister, he died from lymphoma. It is believed that he got this from the Epstein-Barr virus, which was not screened from the donation.

PBS recently did a documentary on David Vetter. In 1976, a fictional television drama was made about a character named “Tod Lubitch”, who was played by John Travolta. Tod was born with a deficient immune system, and had to live in a bubble.

Today, treatment options for kids who have SCID does not include life in plastic bubble. Parents need to take extra precautions to keep their child away from crowds, and from people who are sick. The child may need to use protective face masks, and wash his hands a lot.

Today, a stem cell transplant (also known as a bone marrow transplant), is the only form of treatment that could potentially provide a cure. Gene therapy is another possible form of treatment, (where a child would receive a transplant of his own bone marrow).

Image by Rhett Maxwell on Flickr