Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara women are mending broken hearts—and we don’t mean figuratively. The custodians of centuries-old knitting and weaving traditions, the women are applying their expertise to a decidedly modern cause: crafting minuscule plugs to fix the “holes in the heart” some babies are born with. “We are very happy; we are doing something for someone so they can live,” knitter Daniela Mendoza told BBC News on Sunday. Employing local knitters was a simple solution to a complex problem. Designed by La Paz–based cardiologist Franz Freudenthal, the top-hat-shaped “Nit Occlud” devices are too small and intricate to reproduce on an industrial scale.
Then there is the matter of Bolivia itself, a country that ranks among South America’s poorest. With its dearth of specialist hospitals and doctors to treat children born with heart defects, low-cost innovations are more than copacetic.
The devices are made with a single strand of nitinol, a super-elastic nickel-titanium alloy that folds up inside a catheter for easy insertion into the groin. The occluder remains in its compact form as it journeys through the blood vessels, recovering its original shape only when it reaches its destination in the heart.
Because manipulating a heart is taboo in some Bolivian communities, the procedure’s minimally invasive approach is an added boon.
“By not operating with an open heart, we are also respecting the will of many patients who would not want their children to be operated otherwise,” said Freudenthal, who has garnered international accolades for marrying time-honored craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology.
The results speak for themselves: Freudenthal has successfully used his occluders on hundreds of children and now exports them across the globe.
[Via BBC News]