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He was called “The Bubble Boy,” which is a pretty unfair thing to call someone since he had a real name like you and me, but that’s how he lived his life… inside a bubble.
His actual name was David Vetter, and he was born with an extremely rare condition of the immune system that would not allow him to live in the world all the rest of us live in, where we can walk the earth, touch the trees and breathe in fresh air. No. David was born in 1971 with SCID, which stands for severe combined immunodeficiency. It involves gene mutations that make the immune system virtually non-existent and leaves the person with the condition extremely susceptible to infectious diseases.
Doctors knew David stood a 50 percent chance of having this condition because his mother, Carol, lost another baby boy from it previously. So, 20 seconds after David was born on September 21 at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, he was placed in a sterile plastic isolator bubble. As David grew, so did the plastic bubble housing containing him.
Doctors were hoping that he could outgrow the immune deficiency by the age of 2, but he didn’t. And he would have to live his entire life inside the sterile container.
But when David was 6, NASA, which had already developed the bubble he was contained inside, designed a special space suit for him to put on inside the bubble so he could take his first steps outside of it. It was a little complicated for the young boy, but he managed to put it on and was finally able to step outside the plastic prison on July 29, 1977. Mom Carol was able to hold her little boy in her arms for the very first time. He was also able to walk and play outside for the first time.
When David was 12, doctors believed they could solve his problem through a bone marrow transplant, and his older sister, Katherine, was the donor. Unfortunately, four months after the transfusion, David died on February 22, 1984, from lymphoma, a cancer of the blood cells. Soon after his death, the Texas Children’s Allergy and Immunology Clinic opened the David Center – dedicated to research, diagnosis and treatment of immune deficiencies.
Today, many of the children born with the rare disorder can live full lives with therapy created largely in part to the research done on David’s blood cells.
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