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. Designed by La Paz–based cardiologist Franz Freudenthal, each top-hat-shaped “Nit Occlud” device takes about two hours to create. Employing local knitters was a simple solution to a complex problem. Although most occluders are factory-made, Freudenthal’s versions are too small and intricate to reproduce on an industrial scale.
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 successfully used his occluders on hundreds of children and now exports them across the globe.
[Via BBC News]