The Boy in the Bubble: Spirit of boy in bubble lives on at school 

A lot of people have heard about the Boy in the Bubble, the story of David Demaret who suffered from SCID, or severe combined immune deficiency…

Monday April 27, 1998

By CATHY GORDON / Houston Chronicle

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Schools have been named after legendary scholars, renowned scientists and shuttle astronauts who ventured into the world to leave their mark. But an elementary school in The Woodlands is named for a little boy who snared millions of hearts around the globe without ever leaving his sterile, plastic bubble. The world knew him as David, the Bubble Boy.

When Carol Ann Vetter Demaret enters David Elementary, she is met by a large framed photograph of her son, beaming in his purple Luckenbach, Texas, T-shirt. She remembers his insistence on wearing the shirt for his 5th birthday picture. Purple, after all, was David Philip Vetter’s favorite color. The photograph always makes her smile. “When I walk into that school, I become rejuvenated and rekindled with spirit. I need that from time to time, and the school does that for me,” Ms. Demaret said. “I see the students’ smiling faces, and I feel my heart swell.”

It has been 14 years since David died. He was born with a genetic immune disorder called SCID, or severe combined immune deficiency, which robbed him of any germ-fighting ability. He died at age 12 after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant that doctors had hoped would free him from his germ-free environment.

David lived with his family in the Montgomery County community of Shenandoah. Teachers from nearby Lamar Elementary and, later, Wilkerson Intermediate came to his home to tutor him, and he sometimes participated in classroom activities via a special telephone hookup.

At the 1990 dedication for David Elementary, Ms. Demaret spoke proudly of her son who loved school, telling a rapt audience that the school “is an answering of our prayers that his spirit continues on Earth.” That speech continues to inspire the school, said Principal Valerie Vogt.”When a mother shares something like that with you, you want this school to be every bit as special when it’s 30 years old as it was at the moment of the dedication,” Ms. Vogt said. “We think of Carol Ann’s words often. They inspire us to do the things we do.”

On Sunday, the school will hold its annual David’s Dream Run, a communitywide 1K or 5K run/walk promoted by Shell Oil Co. and the Houston Golf Association to raise money for the David Center at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. The center was established after David’s death to help with the management, research and treatment of children with congenital immune deficiencies. Parent volunteers Karen Requarth and Kelly Hull, organizers of the event, also declared Friday “Dedicated to David Day” at the school.

Dr. William T. Shearer, director of the allergy and immunology department at Texas Children’s Hospital, said David would be proud of the school’s effort. “The resources of that community toward the David Center have been extraordinary,” said Shearer, who was David’s physician. “The David Elementary School, in particular, has been very loyal over the years in providing that extra measure of support that makes the difference. David would be thrilled.” Physical reminders of David are abundant at the school. One hallway displays a long bulletin board of pictures and a chalk rendering of David. The library contains albums of newspaper clippings and photographs. In the school courtyard, a rectangular inlay of bricks represents the size of David’s first bubble. An inscription reads, “David’s world was the size of this space on which you stand. David can help us all better understand the world.”

Each May, the school honors a fourth-grader who exhibits David’s strength of character and courage through special circumstances. David’s mother presents the student with the “Hero Award.” David’s sister, Katherine Canion, is touched by efforts to keep her brother’s memory alive. She would like her two young sons, Christian James, 3, and Cameron David, 9 months, to attend David Elementary someday. “I was driving by that area the other day with some friends, and I said, ‘Did you know that school is named after my brother?’ Little David, even though he’s gone, still lives on,” Ms. Canion said.

On a recent day, Ms. Demaret visited a second-grade class with her daughter, grandsons and David’s father. “While he lived in a bubble, he was a lot like you in a lot of ways,” Ms. Demaret told the students. He loved Star Wars and playing jokes. He sometimes complained about homework and squabbled with his sister. Details about David’s pet duck made students giggle. The duck routinely escaped from his outside pen and waddled in front of the school bus. “All the kids would jump out of the school bus and try to catch that duck and put him back in the pen. We found out years later that the duck terrorized the neighborhood,” joked David’s father, David J. Vetter Jr., now the mayor of Shenandoah. He still lives in the house where David was raised.

Ms. Demaret is touched by students’ responses. “I talk to them, and I’m looking at their faces, and I’m watching them look at me with such intensity,” she said. “They can’t imagine what life is like in a bubble, and I see their wheels turning. Most important to me is that I want them to know that David’s life was good.” Gary Clay, former principal of Lamar Elementary, where David was once assigned, said it is fitting that an elementary school be named after a child who left a huge legacy to medical science and humanity.

“That school is a celebration of his life. He was a child and a pioneer,” said Clay, now superintendent of Friendswood Independent School District. “The school is a tribute to him and his spirit and the challenges he handled so well. I hope it’s around for decades to come.”

Distributed by The Associated Press