The Boy in the Bubble
Born with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), a disorder preventing the immune system from working, David Vetter, or ‘The Boy in the Bubble’, became famous during his short life for living in a completely sterile environment. At the time this was the only option for children born with SCID until a bone marrow transplant could be performed.
Ten seconds after being born David was placed inside a specially sterilised chamber, where he would remain, for the most part, for the rest of his life. It had been expected that a David’s sister would donate bone marrow, however, she was not a match. Everything that entered the cocoon had to be first sterilised in a chamber of ethylene oxide at 60˚C for four hours before being aerated for seven days. David was touched only through plastic gloves that lined the walls of the cocoon.
He was given as normal a life as possible, with a formal education and access to television, although on one occasion he complained: “Why school? Why did you make me learn to read? What good will it do? I won’t ever be able to do anything anyway. So why?"His condition was explained to him when, at four years old, he realised he could poke holes in his cocoon.
As David grew so did the cocoon and, as he longed to explore what he saw out of the window and on TV, a transport chamber and an additional cocoon at his parents’ home were built. On one occasion he attended a screening of Return of the Jedi at a local cinema in his transport chamber. Furthermore, researchers at NASA constructed a suit that would allow David to walk around more freely, though David was somewhat resistant to using it.
Due to a lack of proper human contact David’s behaviour grew increasingly erratic. As he entered his teens he became angry and depressed and was perpetually anxious about germs, experiencing repeated nightmares about ‘The King of Germs’. The case raised numerous ethical questions, the government discussed cutting funding for research into finding a cure, and public support lacked.
Then, in 1983, the doctors that had initially encouraged David’s parents to have David in the first place, proposed to give him an unmatched bone marrow transplant. Initially it seemed that transplant had gone well, and there was hope that David might be able to leave the bubble, however, a few months later David became sick for the first time in his life; suffering diarrhea, fever, severe vomiting and intestinal bleeding. David had to be taken out of the bubble for treatment. Out of the bubble, he worsened and sank into a coma. His mother was able to touch his skin for the first and last time. He died on February 22, 1984 aged 12.