'Bubble Baby' cured of rare immune defect

CORONA, Calif. (KABC) -- The warmth of sunshine is still new for 2-year-old Evangelina Padilla-Vaccaro.

That's because for the first year of her life, she stayed protected inside her Corona home. Diagnosed with a rare condition known as Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, Evangelina was born without an immune system.

"We wore masks. We showered, sanitized, didn't have visitors. She was essentially a bubble baby," said mother Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro, referencing the 1976 movie "Boy in a Plastic Bubble."

Evangelina's dad realized that without treatment, his daughter would always be in peril.

"She lived in bubble. She was deprived of everything a normal kid was," father Christian Padilla-Vaccaro said.

Evangelina's condition was caught on a screening test when she was six months old. Doctors usually treat this condition with a bone marrow transplant, but her fraternal twin sister Anabelle was not a match. Her parents lost hope.

Then the family learned of a clinical trial at UCLA Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.

"It's basically a self-transplant. We take some of the patient's own bone marrow. In the laboratory, we isolate the stem cells and introduce the gene that's missing with a virus to carry the gene, then transplant it back into the patient," said Dr. Donald Kohn, a UCLA professor who pioneered the stem cell gene therapy to correct the faulty gene.

So far, 18 children with SCID have been cured with this treatment. Evangelina is one of them.

She'll get to live like other kids, something her parents will never take for granted.

"It's nothing shy of a miracle," Christian Padilla-Vaccaro said.

Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.