Legacy of Houston’s first ‘Bubble Boy’ helping children born decades later

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Published 5:30 am, Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Though he only lived for 12 years, the life of Houston’s David Vetter captivated the public as he grew up isolated from germs and human touch due to a rare, inherited condition called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disorder, or SCID.

This weekend HoustonChronicle.com told the story of a Houston child named Sebastian Romero who suffers from the same condition.

Vetter lacked the white blood cells that fight infection, meaning any germ was a potential killer. When he was born in 1971, there was no treatment. The “Star Wars”-loving kid died in February 1984 after doctors attempted an experimental bone marrow transplant. 

PREVIOUS: The ‘boy in the bubble’ who captivated the world

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A TV movie starring John Travolta partially based on Vetter’s story was released in 1976, but it took many liberties with his situation. Hollywood has also attempted to turn bubble boy cases into comedy with 2001’s “Bubble Boy” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and a 1992 episode of Seinfeld

Born in February, the cute, chubby-faced Romero has decades of medical research on his side that Vetter did not. But Romero isn’t completely out of the woods, as reporter Mike Hixenbaugh writes on HoustonChronicle.com. His family has a hard road ahead of them. SCID is still a very scary condition in any decade, but the doctors at Texas Children‘s Hospital are calling on lessons from 33 years ago to help save the boy’s life.

PREVIOUS: ‘Bubble boy’ medical legacy lives on years after death

Over the past few years, Texas Children’s has treated several SCID babies, and most had been cured through bone marrow or stem cell transplants. 

After a nationwide search, no matching donor could be found for Sebastian. Texas Children’s instead proposed giving a stem cell transplant from a half-matching family member, the same treatment that failed to cure David more than 30 years ago.

If Sebastian is going to survive, it will be his mother’s stem cells – and lessons from the Bubble Boy – that will save him.

The Romero family is currently holding an online fundraiser to help them pay for some of the expenses related to Sebastian’s ongoing care. 

With additional reporting by Mike Hixenbaugh

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