David Phillip Vetter was a happy and playful boy, but he lived a sad reality because due to his illness he could not have contact with the outside world or be touched by another person. He was immortalized in history as ‘the boy in the bubble’.

David was born on September 21, 1971, at Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston, United States. He lived in the home of his parents, David Jr. and Carol Ann, and his sister Katherine, in the city of Conroe, north of Houston.

The life of this little boy was not very long, because he only lived to be 12 years old. David was born with a Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (IDCS), a congenital disorder that made him vulnerable to the slightest contact with the outside world. For this reason, his parents had to lock him up in a plastic capsule installed in a sector of the house to preserve his life.

From the time he was born until the day he died in 1984, David lived inside four transparent walls that did not allow him to touch the outside. At the age of 12, he had to come out of his confinement so that doctors could treat his disease, but after a failed bone marrow transplant.

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At that moment, his mother was able to caress him and kiss him on the cheek for the first time, so that after a few minutes he took his last breath. This case was extremely documented by scientists, including, It became so popular that they made a movie telling its story.

a hereditary disease

Since Carol Ann was pregnant, she knew that her baby could be born with SCID that required special care. For this reason, the doctors turned the delivery room into a completely sterile place.

Severe Combined Immunodeficiency is a condition that destroys the functioning of the human immune system, causing any germs or bacteria in the environment or on people to become deadly.

David’s mother knew that her little one would possibly suffer from this disease, since in 1970 she had had another baby with this condition. He underwent a bone marrow transplant, as it was the only way to treat this pathology, but he did not pass the treatment and died at seven months of life.

At that time, the doctors affirmed that this disease only manifested itself in men and if they had another child, this one had 50% of suffering from it. But the Vetters wanted to give Katherine a brother and for that reason they tried again, because they thought that in the case of being a child, science would advance and they could cure him.

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“The decision to have another child came from our hearts and our minds. We decided to put our trust in God. It didn’t matter what happened, for us a therapeutic abortion would have been impossible,” said Carol Ann, on the ‘American Experience’ program on the US signal PBS.

Shortly after the birth of David, they realized that unfortunately he had the disease, They tried to do a bone marrow transplant to cure him, but his sister, who was the donor, was not a match for him. For his first three years he lived in a plastic structure at the hospital and then in his own home.

A life in the bubble

David’s parents created an impressive structure, because it had different environments connected by a pin, so that the child could move and have a place to sleep, go to the bathroom and play. The walls had closures through which they could enter and remove objects, which were always sterilized. Likewise, it had a kind of ‘gloves’ with which people could touch the infant and so that he could grab objects from outside.

As far as possible, his parents tried to make him have a “normal” life, as he watched soccer games with his father, played with his neighbor Shawn, and also watched classes at school with a speaker phone that connected him with the classroom. a nearby school. In addition, he had private classes with a teacher.

His sister Katherine, who was three years older, was always David’s greatest company, as they used to sleep in the same room where the bubble was, but this changed when he was 9 years old.

Despite the conditions in which little Vetter lived, he rarely complained. “He was an odd combination of a very lovable child, but he had the toughness of character and bravery of an adult.”pointed out the psychiatrist of the Children’s Hospital of Texas, David Freeman, in the national media.

The bubble boy was famous

David Vetter shocked people at the time and as the boy grew, interest in him increased. Even, In 1976, they created a movie based on his story called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’ and was starring John Travolta. This film showed David in adulthood and one day he decides to leave his confinement to ride a horse with his girlfriend.

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Likewise, this case generated great interest among scientists, thinkers and religious, who questioned the life of the little boy in his confinement. It is worth mentioning that David knew that he suffered from a medical condition, he even came to see his face on the front page of the newspapers.

NASA wanted to give the boy a great gift and they designed him an airtight suit, similar to that of an astronaut, so that he could see the world around him. Thanks to this invention, David can be picked up for the first time by his mother, walk through his garden and see the sky.

The death of David Vetter

The family doctors never gave up the idea of ​​doing a bone marrow transplant with her sister as the donor. For many years, they went through different processes to make Katherine’s marrow compatible and they believed they had succeeded.

However, during the procedure, Katherine gave him a virus that made David seriously ill. To attend to him they had to take him out of the bubble. Two weeks later, on February 22, 1984, he died. Her mother told the media that this was the first time she was able to hold her son’s hand.

This case served as a source of research for medicine and 40 academic articles were written about the child, his autopsy and blood samples that served to understand and repair the immune system of other children with the same pathology.


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