Hum of Motors Pumping Germ-Free Air Ended a Year Ago : Bubble Boy’s Parents Miss ‘Music’ of Life

Associated Press

David, the boy in a bubble, has been dead a year now, but his parents still miss the “music of the motors” that was his symphony of life.

For 12 years, the hum of motors pumping germ-free air into David’s plastic bubble was the sound of hope, a promise that science might find him a way to live in the outside world.

The motors fell silent Feb. 22, 1984, when David died. An experimental treatment had failed.

“I miss the music of the motors,” said Carol Ann, David’s mother. “It was the last thing I heard at night, and the motors would lull me to sleep. They were the first thing I listened for in the morning.”

After David died, she said, “the house was so quiet it was eerie. We would cry ourselves to sleep.”


Thousands of Letters

David’s plight attracted international attention. A year after his death, thousands still write letters, often delivered with no more address than “David’s Parents” or “Family of Bubble Boy.”

David was born with severe combined immune deficiency syndrome, leaving him with no protection from disease.

Immediately after birth, he was placed in a germ-free plastic bubble. It and other bubbles that replaced it became his home for 12 years.

The bubbles grew as he did, and David lived untouched by a human hand or a mother’s kiss. His food was sterilized and limited. All of his life, he yearned for a Coke. He never got it.

His parents, Carol Ann and David Sr., who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their last name not be used, viewed David’s life in the bubble as temporary, until a cure was found. But, as the wait stretched into years, they tried to create him a real boyhood, with friends, schooling and a family life.

Entered Spelling Bee

He attended school by telephone and even competed in a spelling bee. His grades were above average.

David’s memory is bright at the Texas Children’s Hospital, where he was a patient periodically all his life and where he died.

The David Fund has received $204,147 in donations in his memory. The money has been used to treat 160 children, all with immune system problems. Two with the same condition as David’s have been cured with the treatment that failed for him.

“He stands out as the clearest example of immune deficiency,” said Dr. William T. Shearer, David’s principal physician. “There is no other person who is so well known. I travel to other countries, and they know instantly who David is. No other explanation is needed.”

David died four months after an experimental transplant of bone marrow from his sister.

Received First Hug

Briefly, before he died, there was joy. He was taken from his bubble, and his family hugged him for the first time. In awe, David touched ordinary things in the room.

But he grew more ill, and Shearer put him on a respirator.

“He agreed and winked at me, and that was the last communication,” the doctor said.

Carol Ann removed her glove to touch her son.

“It was the first time ever that I touched his hand,” she later wrote. “I lifted my mask. I kissed him. It was the first time and the last time.”

In the last year, Carol Ann and David’s father have reviewed many times their decision to try the bone-marrow experiment that failed.

“In my heart,” she says, “I have no regrets.”