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The 12 Years Nightmare of a Plastic Bubble Baby

Updated on April 11, 2019
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David Phillip Vetter was a sufferer of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) and passed 12 years in a plastic bubble before death.

David Phillip Vetter

David Vetter is known as the boy in the bubble who was born in 1971 with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). During the time of his birth, bone marrow transplantation was the only cure of SCID. But unfortunately there was no match in Vetter's family for successful transplantation. He was reared at Texas Children’s Hospital under the continuous treatment and care of doctors for 12 years before his death.

Dr. William Shearer and Dr. Bufo visits with David Vetter, 1979
Dr. William Shearer and Dr. Bufo visits with David Vetter, 1979 | Source

Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID)

SCID is one of the major types of primary immunodeficiency diseases that can lead to death if not treated earlier. The patients with this disease are defective in producing the components of the immune systems which are required for combating diseases. As a result, the patients get sicker day by day because the opportunistic diseases get more room to attack the patient.

Life of Vetter inside the Plastic Bubble

The survival of Vetter in the normal environment was quite impossible because of the prominent presence of disease causing agents in the environment. At the hospital, Vetter was protected inside a plastic bubble to maintain a germ-free surrounding. At that time, all kinds of foods, clothes, diapers and even oxygen were supplied after proper treatment by the personnel in charge to make sure that those couldn't bring any fatal consequences. In the mean time, doctors were concerned to find a cure that could help Vetter to be rescued from that nightmare. When he was four, doctors discovered an additional chamber in his home at Cornoe so that he could pass time with his family. As he kept growing, he became curious about the outside world and nobody could imagine that how bad it was to pass whole life inside a barrier. In 1977, the researchers of NASA developed a fabrication suit of 8 feet long which was connected to the bubble that would allow Vetter to go outside.

David Vetter inside the Plastic Bubble
David Vetter inside the Plastic Bubble | Source


In 1984, Vetter received a successful bone marrow transplantation from his sister, Katherine without facing any symptoms associated with rejection. But 15 days later after receiving the transplant he died from severe lymphoma. The subsequent autopsy of the collected sample indicated the presence of Epstein-Barr virus. That virus was in latent state during the transplantation and therefore was not detectable before the treatment.

SCID and Future Hope

Almost 1.3 billion USD was spent in finding a cure of SCID during the care of Vetter but the scientific expenditure was failed. But the doctors found the relationship between the virus and cancer that helped to explore the new directions in medication. The consequences of SCID is still fatal if left untreated, but the recent advancement in the science and technology has opened new doors to fight that nightmare. In addition to the bone marrow transplantation, currently gene therapy and stem cell treatment are in the development which hopefully will be the permanent cure of SCID.


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