50 years later: The legacy of David Vetter, the boy who lived in a bubble

On Tuesday, David Vetter would have been 50 years old.

David was the young boy who was so immune-compromised, Texas Children’s Hospital and NASA collaborated to build him a sterile bubble where he was able to safely live.

Looking back on the last 50 years, Texas Children’s praised David’s family for all they were able to accomplish together. Doctors can now treat and cure immune deficiencies.

“David’s contribution to science was dramatic and I’m proud to have shared in David’s life,” his mother, Carol Ann Demaret, said.

Demaret remains an advocate for families and babies affected by immune disorders.

When her son was born in 1971, he was so immuno-compromised that he always lived in a sterile environment because the only way to keep him alive was to always keep him away from germs and it began at his birth.

“I had watched as one doctor baptized David, which was my only request, and I watched the other doctor seal the bubble,” Demaret said.

He died in 1984 at age 12. Today, the David Center (named in honor of David Vetter) at Texas Children’s saves many lives because of what they learned throughout David’s time as a patient.

Demaret said he had an idea that he was contributing to science but nobody could’ve imagined how huge that contribution would be.

“We began to understand things about the immune system,” Dr. Carla Davis explained how David’s life impacted children and adults, people with AIDS, cancer and other immune diseases. “Today we no longer have to use a bubble for children with immunodeficiency disease and we can provide a cure because of David and his life.”

So while the loss of a child never goes away, the victories in science give David’s family a reason to celebrate every day, especially on his birthday.

“I think it’s important that people not feel sorry for David or for his family because there was a lot of joy in raising David,” Demaret said.

One of the more recent breakthroughs as a result of David’s life is newborn screening in all 50 states that can detect immune diseases. Dr. Davis said there are currently over 400 immunodeficiency diseases that can be treated before a patient develops an infection, which can be life-threatening.

She said many are treated with bone marrow transplantation, another breakthrough in science for which David was their first patient.

He would have been celebrating his 50th birthday
He would have been celebrating his 50th birthday