Bursting the Bubble

"Bubble Boy" David Vetter was hardly the happy, well-adjusted child portrayed in the media. Thirteen years after his death, his friend Mary Murphy is fighting to tell his story.

Around 4:30, she walked the short distance from her offie to David's quarters, confident that she could remedy the situation in no time flat.

David seemed glad to see Murphy, whom he remembered as "the lady with the leaf." Even so, he rebuffed her attempts to get him into the playroom. After a couple of hours, she gave up for the day.

As she left, David looked in her eyes. "Lady," he said, "you will be back."
He was right. By the following day, Murphy had decided that trying to talk David into the playroom was useless. Instead, she borrowed a bowl of goldfish from the desk of a third-floor secretary, and placed the bowl on the far side of the playroom. David was excited by the fish, and tried to convince Murphy to bring them next to his crib. She refused.

The strategy worked. Anxious to examine the fish more closely, David crawled through the tube, down the three-stepped ladder and into the playroom. UPI got its photographs, the medical team got its good publicity and Murphy was invited to help in David's day-to-day care.

Privately, nurses complained to her that the playroom incident was minor compared to other problems they were beginning to have with the child. "They wanted him to behave and be compliant," said Murphy. Eventually, she became known as "the fire extinguisher": the person to call when David was in emotional crisis.

Three and a half years after David's birth, Texas Children's Hospital finally discussed the ethics of keeping a child isolated indefinitely. Now many hospitals have ethics committees that routinely consider complicated decisions. But in the '70s, such groups were rare.

On February 26, 1975, about 30 doctors, theologians and other concerned parties -- including Mary Murphy -- gathered in the hospital's conference room. All the chairs were filled, and people stood in the back of the room. Dr. Wilson, the project's scientific director, gave a synopsis of David's history, then opened the session for questions.

The most pointed of those questions came from Dr. Robert Main, another chaplain. "You're in the honeymoon stage of treating him now," said Main, who had examined David. "One day he will take a look at himself and decide he doesn't want to be in there till he gets to be 15 years of age."

Nonetheless, Dr. Montgomery, another of David's original doctors, brought the meeting to an upbeat close. Under similar circumstances, he said, he would start this project again with another child.

"How many more?" someone asked.
"Until I determined that there was no more information to be gained by such a thing," Montgomery replied, "or if the outcome was certain."

The Reverend Raymond J. Lawrence, the chaplain of Texas Children's, had convened the meeting, but he was disappointed by its results. The real ethical issues, he says, were never discussed.

"The great scandal of the Bubble Boy was that he was conceived for the bubble," says Lawrence, now director of the department of pastoral care at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "The team that did this didn't think through this very well. They didn't consider what would happen if they didn't find an immediate cure. They operated on the assumption that you could live to be 80 years old in a bubble, and that would be unfortunate but okay."

In the years since, Lawrence's outrage has not abated. He continues to maintain that the three original doctors convinced David's parents to conceive him because they wanted a test subject for their studies of immunology. The doctors flatly deny the charge.

No other ethical conferences on the subject were ever convened. And when contacted recently, Dr. Montgomery stood firmly by the decision to place David in the bubble. "At the time, we were encouraged by everything we knew," he says. "If people didn't take chances, none of us would be here. Columbus would have stayed in Spain and would have been selling tortillas, because he was warned he would sail off the edge of the earth."

Mary Murphy didn't have a lot of free time to spend with David. During the day, her job required her to evaluate other kids at the hospital's developmental center; at night, she needed to work on her doctoral thesis.

She says David offered a bargain: If she would work on her dissertation in his room at the hospital every other evening, including Saturdays, he would promise not to talk.

As Murphy worked on her dissertation, David spent his time watching television and, later, doing his homework. (He had tutors, and attended an elementary school class in Conroe by telephone hookup.) He showed a flair for math, but rarely read for pleasure, a fact that disappointed Murphy. She'd hoped that books would provide him an escape from the bubble.

Instead, over the years, his sense of hopelessness increased. "Even though David was only five," wrote Murphy, "he recognized his difference and dreaded what the future held -- limited choices, feelings of alienation and an increased need to be polite and compliant so as not to reveal his anger."

Most of the time, David lived deep within himself. "He was always used to being very polite," she remembered. It took her a long time to tell when he was saying what he meant, and when he was saying what she wanted him to say. "That is, I guess, one of the things that kept me uncomfortable," she admitted. "I sensed he was being excruciatingly polite sometimes when he didn't really want to be. Most kids that age don't have that kind of façade. They don't bother."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
19 comments
Celia Huerta
Celia Huerta

David was just a child, a human being. He suffered his entire life trapped in a very small plastic bubble. As the numan being he was, he got mentally ill, yet, he remained aware and despite bouts of dispair, he didn't entirely lose hope until the very end. David had to be strong and courageous in a way most humans don't have to be. I am so glad he had Mary Murphy by his side, validating his reality in a way no one else would. It was an extremely sad and lonely existance. First he was treated like an experimental animal while trapped in a bubble; second most Drs, the media and even his parents chose to believe he was ok in a bubble. No one in their right mind trully believes he was a "happy child". Are encarcerated people content to be confined to a small space? Research indicates not. It's horrible for inmates, it's even worse for a little child. It has devastating effects on a child's development. That's humanity 101. I hope David has found freedom wherever he is. I hope he is in a place now where he can thrive, be happy and have a decent existance.

Guest
Guest

Looks like the book has or will become available: Bubbleboybook dot com claims that it will be up by 1/15/12.

realnewz
realnewz

This is the third article I read of this case and it just raises more questions than answers.This is the first I hear of him being donated to science before he was born.How cruel is that?

I think the doctors knew what they were doing before he was born. Because why would they think they would find an instant cure once he was born? That doesnt really make sense and where did he use the washroom?

Since he was put in the bubble 10 seconds after being born how did they know he had the disease? They say there was a 50/50 chance of him being born with it but never get into details with how they knew he had the disease. If he tested positive for the disease why no mention of that?

I think they wanted to study him and his dna.I dont think it was a fluke coincidence that they couldnt find a cure for him. Or at least finding a cure was a boogus excuse to study him.Even some of his bubble contraptions look like a rat experiment/maze.

I find it odd that he would ask about his legal rights and want his friend to write a book about him. I think there is alot more to this story that isnt being told.He may have been the first human clone or a humanoid alien. lolStrange but that would make a little more sense of this tragic story.

This bizarre case reminds me of E.T. and the Truman Show combined.

Richardstephens99
Richardstephens99

Since he was put in the bubble 10 seconds after being born how did they know he had the disease? because his first brother died from the disease and his mother carried a defective gene that cause scid and doctors told his parents that if they had any more male children they would have a 50% percent chance that they would have scid so the parent and doctor took precautions with the vetter's second son they put him in a bubble after he was born to protect him if he had scid a week later test proved he did have scid They say there was a 50/50 chance of him being born with it but never get into details with how they knew he had the disease. If he tested positive for the disease why no mention of that?

Shannonwoods31
Shannonwoods31

I agree 100%, this childs life was planned before he was born, his parents was tricked and were convinced to have another baby for tests, research and experiments, its just so sickening

Maxemillion Candace Cummings
Maxemillion Candace Cummings

These doctors were and are just sick!! if they dared lock my family in a bubble i would have them experience it first!!

Stephan Pickering
Stephan Pickering

Shalom & Erev tov...it is now 2011...the book never appeared...both David and Mary are in Spirit...what happened to the book's manuscript? Surely, with proper legal work, and with knowledge of the parents' participation in a horrific 'experiment' that saw their son's death, the book can be read.STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

Molly
Molly

I think the whole story is sad and just wrong. The poor boy was stuck in a bubble his whole life waiting for a cure that ended up being what killed him. I read some other articles about David and one of them said he asked his mother if he could try a Coca Cola before he died, and she said no because he was very sick and dying. He was never able to do and try things that other kids are able to do everyday.RIP David.

Maria
Maria

i think that the only thing mary want is money to publish her book.. know with internet, blogs, web pages, etc you can publish your story everywhere and "make your promess" so is obvious what she really want by telling the story

Bink
Bink

Ummmm. Nope. The threatened lawsuit would apply to a hardcover book, a paperback book, an audio book, a text file, etc. Are you so ignorant you think posting on the internet is somehow a "loophole" to alleged HIPAA violations? And that it "proves" that the author, at 70 years old, is now only out for money? Thank goodness the internet has come about, now anyone can libel people with impunity.

NkA1
NkA1

@Bink I believe that the author Mary Murphy is now deceased and the manuscript to her book has been posted online.

Allegra
Allegra

Such a tragic story. I feel very sad for the parents, who did what they did believing the doctors, and having faith in a cure, and who ended up denying their child's humanity. I hope to see Murphy's story some day but the litigious climate around this medical misstep makes that unlikely.

Celia
Celia

Heart-breaking story. I watched the documentary and have read several articles about David's life. I wish they would let Mary publish the story. I'm so glad he had her in her life. His reality was denied by the media and his own parents. This well intended but cruel action added to David's tragic experience. That denial of his reality and feelings kept him even more isolated.

denise
denise

its very sad.. pour boy..but i was suprised about the size of the bubble, six feet by two feet by four and a half feet, i dont know how big that is in meters, but the translator telled me dimensions where nobody could stand in it or something. so how big was it really?i really admire this boy & his force to live ..i think nobody could imagine what it means to live a long life in something like that. it must be gruesome ..rip david, now you have your freedom

Rose
Rose

How terrible that the parents and doctors did this to that child. He did not ask to be born so that he could live his life in a bubble. To do this on purpose I find very uncareing.

Angela
Angela

A sad story indeed. My blessings and peace to all the people involved on Davids life. I can only image how much they'll miss him even under such a unique way of living or experiencing the so call life. I would like to contact any of the parties involved in David's life, his parents, sister, doctors or someone who had the opportunity to meet him. Pleased contact me at email: arecurt@yahoo.com

M. Sipiaguine
M. Sipiaguine

This is such a sad story and I hope Mary's book and David's real story is one day published for all to read who cares about a glimpse into the truth. While David's case may have allowed the doctors to find potential cures for his condition and led to the discovery that viruses can cause cancer, it is obvious they were more interested in using him as a guinea pig, and I'm surprised that no one has been prosecuted for such a lapse in ethics. What century are we living in?

NkA1
NkA1

@M. Sipiaguine The manuscript of her book is online at bubbleboybook.com

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...