Here’s Something About Bubble Boy That You Never Knew

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, the phrase “Bubble Boy” zaps us right back to a sharp mental image that will always stick with us. Some remember a young John Travolta, furiously acting his heart out as “The Boy in a Plastic Bubble” on TV.

John Travolta bear suit.
John Travolta playing as Bubble Boy. Source: Tumblr

But others remember the grainy news footage of the real boy in a plastic bubble, even if we don’t remember his name. David Vetter (1971 to 1984) captured the hearts and minds of millions as we watched him grow up in an airtight plastic environment.

David had Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID)—a specific type of Primary Immune Deficiency disease—and struggled for the chance to live a normal childhood while being cut off from the outside world.

For me, the memory that stands out most is of David exploring his world and interacting with his family courtesy of a special suit designed for him by NASA.

John Vetter and his doctor
“Bubble Boy” John Vetter with his Dr. John R. Montgomery. Source: Wikipedia

At the time, the only treatment for SCID was complete isolation and a bone marrow transplant. For many of us, the thought that such a rare, one-in-a-million disease could one day strike our children was a potent fear. But times have changed. Today, even kids diagnosed with the most severe forms of Primary Immune Deficiency disease have treatment options that weren’t available 30 years ago…and some of those treatments were made possible by studies carried out on David’s blood cells.

Take Aidan Walsh. CLS Behring tells the story of Aidan who was diagnosed with SCID when he was five years old. Growing up, Aidan was in and out of hospitals, and struggled with everything from pneumonia to chronic gastrointestinal problems, chronic infections, and autoimmune diseases. He did get a successful bone marrow transplant when he was six—with one of his younger brothers as the donor.

Aidan also gets an infused immunoglobulin therapy that provides a boost to his weakened immune system, which in turn, helps him go to school and participate in activities like golf, baseball, and hockey. Most importantly, Aidan is able to spend time in close contact with family and friends without fear of infection, something which would have been unthinkable when he was a little boy.

Now 14, Aidan continues to self-infuse regularly and just enjoys being a normal teenager. He’s thankful to everyone who donates plasma, which is used to create immunotherapies like the one he takes. And he’s thankful to companies like CSL Behring—which runs one of the largest plasma collection networks in the world—that research and manufacture the therapies that Primary Immune Deficiency patients rely on. He encourages anyone thinking of donating plasma to do it, because they can literally save lives.

While memories of the “Bubble Boy” may always haunt earlier generations, he left a legacy that is now benefitting Aidan and his generation. Thanks to that legacy, Aidan can grow up in a world where SCID is not a death sentence; it’s just another part of normal life.

To read more of Aidan’s story, check out CSL Behring’s full story.

Ronald Ledsen

Ronald Ledsen

After emigrating from his native Sweden, Ronald spent a stint in the Merchant Marines while trying to work out what he wanted to do with his life. He discovered a love of writing while helping a friend write anonymous Harry Potter fan-fiction online; he discovered meaning to his writing when he began journaling after an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Ronald is most relaxed when spending quiet time with his wife, two sons, and hyperactive cat.

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