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Houston’s Bubble Boy Still Touches Lives 33 Years After His Death

PATCH -- The Woodlands

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Washington, July 27, 2017 | comments

New bipartisan legislation proposed by Kevin Brady will help Medicare Part B patients with significant health challenges receive needed care

 
By Bryan Kirk (Patch Staff) - Updated July 27, 2017 3:21 pm ET

A boy who touched the world more than 40 years ago as the child forced to live his life in a plastic bubble, has done it again through a new piece of legislation that will help improve Medicare Part B programs for patients with significant health challenges.

For most, hearing the name of David Vetter doesn’t resonate feelings of recollection among Houstonians.

However, a mention of “David the Houston Bubble Boy,” will likely bring a hint of recognition and a familiar nod of the head from people 50 and older, but only because in the 1970s and 80s, David’s story was well-known in the Bayou City.

The Woodlands never forgot, which has a street named David, and a school called David Elementary School in Conroe ISD.

Carol Ann Demaret, David’s mother, meets with specialists inside the David Clinic, an allergy, immunology and rheumatology clinic named for her son at Texas Children’s Hospital in The Woodlands.

She has seen a lot of changes in healthcare in the years since her son’s death 33 years ago, and as a result of her hard work she is now seeing the impact her son’s life had through the passage of House Resolution 3178, known as the Medicare Part B Improvement Act of 2017.

The act was proposed by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) and passed with bipartisan support on July 25.

“The legislation delivers targeted, immediate reforms to make Medicare work better for the American people, and it includes solutions from roughly a dozen members on both sides of the aisle,” Brady said in his remarks from the House floor July 25.

The Medicare Part B Improvement Act of 2017:

  • Expands access to high-quality care.
  • Improves efficiency in the delivery of care so that patients receive the care they need.
  • Eases the administrative burdens on providers so they can spend less time on paperwork and more time with patients.
  • Extends and improves Medicare home infusion services, which allow patients to receive personalized care in the comfort of their own home.

Brady first introduced the legislation in 2012 as a direct response to those suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID, the same condition that David Vetter suffered from his whole life.

“As I learned from Carol Ann Demaret – a constituent of mine whose son David suffered from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease – life with a severely weakened immune system can be an incredible struggle. And for children especially, it can be a daily fight just to survive,” Brady said. “Allowing these vulnerable patients to receive treatment from the safety of their own home can not only improve the quality of care – it can greatly enhance their quality of life. It can give a kid a real chance to be a kid.”

David Vetter’s story ended in February 1984, when he died from lymphoma and complications from a rare condition known as severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID.

David never got to be a kid in the traditional sense.

He was born in a sterile environment a year after his brother, also named David, died from the same rare condition at only a few months old.

When David Vetter was born in 1971, he was taken from and immediately placed in a sterile bubble, and after testing the placenta, determined that her newborn son has the same disease that claimed his older brother.

“I only had one request and that was that he be baptized,” Demaret recalled.

The designer of the sterile bubble sterilized holy water for the baptism, and David was baptized and placed in the bubble, after he was born via C-Section.

Two weeks after he was born, Carl Ann learned that her son had the same terrible disease.

“We just lived on hope, and we lived on prayer that science would someday find the answer that we so desperately needed,” she said.

But the years passed, and David got a little older, and there were no answers.

He would never get to do the things that normal kids would do in those days.

Activities such as jumping in puddles after a rainstorm, playing outside with the neighborhood kids, or sitting in a regular classroom simply couldn’t happen.

He would have to remain in a sterile environment, and that included breathing sterilized air.

Fortunately, David was able to live much of his life at home, instead of the confines of a hospital.

Carol Ann would do stress tests on the bubble, and in a short time, David would learn to do the same, and was very cautious of his bubble.

For years, David’s story was shared through an agreement with public relations personnel at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine and local media outlets in Houston, when anything happened.

One of the most noteworthy images emerged in 1976, when NASA created a space suit for David that allowed him outside of the sterile plastic environment.

A large portrait hangs of David in his space suit playing in a sprinkler next to his mother inside the David Clinic.

In 1984, David was 12-years old and approaching the age where something needed to be done, so just before, the doctors wanted to try a bone marrow transplant, with Catherine as the donor.

Doctor’s performed the bone marrow transplant, but unbeknownst to the family or the doctors, Catherine had developed Epstein-Barr, a virus that causes mononucleosis.

The bone marrow transplant that his parents hoped would save him, and give him a chance at a normal life, instead caused him to develop lymphoma and claimed his life on Feb. 7, 1984.

“As a result of that, science had always suspected that cancer was caused by a virus, and when David passed away, this was confirmed,” she said with tears in her eyes.

His life, however still impacts others, even though he’s not here.

“I have thought about this many times and explain it as sorrow and joy: Sorrow because David is not longer with us, but the joy I feel when something positive happens as a result of David’s good name and what he has done for science…,” she said.

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