Little Bits of History

Bubble Boy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 22, 2015
David, the Bubble Boy in his containment unit

David, the Bubble Boy in his containment unit

February 22, 1984: David dies. David was born in Houston, Texas in 1971. He was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) which is a genetic disorder caused by a number of genetic mutations. People with SCID have curtailed development of T cells and B cells leaving the victim with a defective antibody response and susceptible to pathogens. David’s older brother had also had the disease and died at the age of seven months. His older sister was unaffected. His parents had been told after the death of his brother, that any future male children had a 50% of getting SCID. At the time, the only treatment available was to keep pathogens away from the patient until a successful bone transplant could take place.

David’s early life was spent mostly at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. A special sterilized cocoon bed was prepared and as soon as he was born, he was placed in the germ-free cocoon. He would spend most of his life in this type of environment and was known to the world as David, the Bubble Boy. Sterilized holy water was used to baptize the baby once he had entered the bubble. It was hoped his sister, Katherine, could be a bone marrow donor, but she was not an acceptable match and a bone marrow transplant was put on hold. Water, air, food, diapers, and clothes all had to be sterilized before they were permitted in the sterile chamber.

In order to sterilize all manner of items, they were placed in a chamber filled with heated (⁰F 140) ethylene oxide gas for four hours and then aerated for one to seven days. They were then safe for David to use. After the infant was placed in the bubble, he was touched only through special plastic gloves attached to the walls of the bubble. It was kept inflated by air compressors which made so much noise that communication with the boy was difficult. When he was three, a second bubble was built at his parents’ home and a transport chamber was also built. David was able to spend two to three weeks at a time at home. In an effort to make his life as normal as possible, he was provided a formal education and given access to television. He even had a playroom built in his hospital chamber.

NASA technology allowed for the building of a suit which permitted David to exit his bubble and walk out in the world. David did not like the suit and only used it seven times before he outgrew it and then refused to wear the replacement. Approximately $1.3 million was spent on caring for David during his lifetime. At age 12, David finally was able to receive a bone marrow transplant from his sister. Unfortunately, it contained traces of dormant Epstein-Barr virus which had been undetected in the screenings. David died 15 days after the transplant from Burkitt’s lymphoma. Charges of unethical medical practices were brought against three physicians who denied any wrongdoing. Ten years after his death, David’s full name was finally made public. David Phillip Vetter.

The great scandal of the Bubble Boy was that he was conceived for the bubble. The team that did this didn’t think through this very well. They didn’t consider what would happen if they didn’t find an immediate cure. They operated on the assumption that you could live to be 80 years old in a bubble, and that would be unfortunate but okay. – Raymond Lawrence

In 1978, although he was not quite eight years old, David had realized his life would be lonely, dull and short. His helplessness enraged him. Before he was born, his body had been donated to science. – Steve McVicker

The doctors – John Montgomery, Mary Ann South and Raphael Wilson – told the Vetters that should they choose to have another child, and should that child also have SCIDS, the newborn could be placed in an almost completely sterile isolator that would protect him from disease until a cure was found – which, the doctors thought, was only a matter of time. The project would be financed with federal research grants. – Steve McVicker

At the time, we were encouraged by everything we knew. If people didn’t take chances, none of us would be here. Columbus would have stayed in Spain and would have been selling tortillas, because he was warned he would sail off the edge of the earth. – John Montgomery

Also on this day: Copy Rights – In 1774, perpetual copyrights were banned by House of Lords.
Hello, Dolly – In 1997, the Roslin Institute announced the successful cloning of a sheep.
Grady the Cow – In 1949, a cow got stuck in a silo and made national news.
The White Rose – In 1943, three young adults were executed.
Florida – In 1819, the Adams-Onis Treaty was signed.

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