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The Boy in the Bubble
Timeline: David Vetter's Life, and Treatments for Immunodeficiency

1968 - 1973 | 1975 - 2001  


The first experimental matched bone marrow transplants successfully treat immunodeficient patients. In both cases the matches are between identical twins.

April: A healthy baby girl, Katherine Vetter, is born to Carol Ann and David J. Vetter Jr. Her two brothers will both be born with a genetic immunodeficiency disorder that only expresses itself in boys.


Photo of Raphael (Joseph) Wilson in his office at Texas Children's Raphael Wilson, a Ph.D. in experimental biology, helps treat twin boys born with compromised immune systems. He places them in a plastic isolator where they will be safe from germs.


David J. Vetter III is born. His health suffers however, and his parents are referred to the Texas Children's Hospital. Doctors determine that the boy has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and prepare a bone marrow transfusion from his sister Katherine. Before the transfusion can help, the child dies from multiple infections.

Raphael Wilson joins pediatric immunologists Mary Ann South and John "Jack" R. Montgomery in counseling sessions with the Vetters.


Dr. Wilson looks in on baby David, 1971 Carol Ann and David J. Vetter Jr. conceive another child. They look to the team of doctors at Texas Children's Hospital for assistance. If Carol Ann's genes indeed carry SCID, there is a one in four chance this child will carry the same disease.

After amniocentesis determines that Carol Ann Vetter's baby is a boy, doctors explain that he has a one in two chance of being born with SCID. The option of abortion is offered, and refused. Though bone marrow transplantation is in its infancy and requires a near-perfect match between donor and recipient, Raphael Wilson assures the Vetters that the child can be born into a germ-free environment and maintained there until a bone marrow transplant can be performed.

September 21: David Phillip Vetter is born in Texas Children's Hospital. The hospital staff has made a heroic effort to create germ free conditions. After less than twenty seconds of exposure to the world, the baby is placed in a plastic isolator bubble that will protect him from disease.

October: Doctors inform the Vetters that their son has severe combined immunodeficiency.

November: After they determine that Carol Ann can take care of the baby and David can handle the isolator, David's parents bring him home for four days over the Thanksgiving holiday. The actual drive home is a fiasco; the Vetters lead the way but the ambulance drivers turn on their siren and zoom off ahead and get lost. After about an hour, Dr. Wilson demands that they get directions from a gas station. The gas station attendant directs them to the sheriff and the sheriff dispatches a car to lead them to the Vetters' house. The rest of the visit proceeds without incident. On subsequent visits David's father will borrow a van and drive his son home himself.


During a neighborhood power failure, David's bubble deflates at home. The Vetters plug the holes of the isolator to prevent further loss of air, send a neighbor out to find a portable generator and frantically contact local rescue crews. In the future, a backup generator will be installed and the fire department will know to check on David's house as a priority.

October: Thirteen-month-old David's physical development has been prodigious but his language skills are falling behind. Speech pathologist Karol Musher trains the medical staff to talk aloud to the boy, naming all the objects around them like a mother would. Within a year, his language reaches expected milestones.


Photo of Mary Anne South Dr. Mary Ann South, after a bout of illness herself, leaves Texas for a job in Philadelphia. She and the other doctors of David's original team will continue to check in with David personally and be available for consultations by his doctors for the rest of his life.

1968 - 1973 | 1975 - 2001  

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The Boy in the Bubble American Experience