Much has changed in the field of immunology since David Vetter, the young Texas boy affectionately known as the ‘boy in the bubble,’ was born in 1971. David had one of the most documented and studied cases of SCID in history, capturing the world’s attention for 12 years as he lived inside a protective plastic isolator to prevent him from contracting life-threatening infections. 30 years after his passing, David’s mother, Carol Ann Demaret, continues to share the story of her beloved son and the knowledge gained from his life.
Carol Ann explains that living in a sterile environment was the only way to keep David from being infected with the many bacteria and viruses that could kill him. “We were fortunate that NASA offered to construct a sterile space for David to live, inside a plastic ‘bubble’ that was set up for him both at the hospital and in our home in a suburb of Houston,” she says, “They also built a spacesuit for David that is now part of the Smithsonian’s collection. He grew up surrounded by media attention but never being able to be touched by those who loved him.”
Today, children with SCID can live healthy lives without protective isolators or ‘bubbles’ used in the past. Babies diagnosed with SCID can undergo bone marrow transplant, enzyme replacement therapy or gene therapy, but because they appear healthy at birth, they must be tested for SCID almost immediately. These infants cannot survive without early diagnosis and treatment. One of the most significant advances since David was born is SCID newborn screening. With SCID newborn screening and early detection, treatment in infants is nearing 100% efficacy. And even though this practice was recommended by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in 2010, SCID newborn screening is unfortunately not required by all states at this time. More and more states, however, are beginning implementation every year.
Carol Ann is a long-time member of the IDF Board of Trustees and a champion for nationwide and universal implementation of SCID newborn screening. She believes, and science has stated, that because of what was learned from David’s gallant life and death, many children with SCID have since been diagnosed early, received bone marrow transplants and now lead healthy lives. The knowledge gained from treating David not only helped the thousands of children born with SCID but also contributed to medical knowledge about treating AIDS, viral infections and cancer. In her words, “David was a great blessing to our family and to the world.
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