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Bolivian Women Knit Parts for Hearts

Children Born With Heart Defects Saved By Traditional Craft Skills

For centuries, the indigenous Aymara women have been knitting and weaving traditional woolen hats, sweaters and blankets.

Now, the women are turning their skills to producing a high-tech medical product. This Bolivian medical invention is used to seal up a “hole in the heart”, which some babies are born with.

It takes about two hours the “Nit Occlud” device which looks similar to a top hat and is used to block the hole in the patient’s heart.

“We are very happy, we are doing something for someone so they can live,” says knitter Daniela Mendoza, who weaves the tiny device in a special “clean room”.

This version of an occluder is so small and intricate that it is difficult to mass produce. So, the device inventor, Dr Freduenthal, turned to Bolivia’s traditional craft knitters to make them by hand.

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Initially, he tested the prototypes out on sheep with heart problems. Today, he is exporting his invention world-wide after having successfully used them on hundreds of children.

Bolivia is the poorest country in south America and lacks enough specialist hospitals and cardiac doctors to treat children born with heart problems. So cheap innovations are welcome.

“The most important thing is that we try to get really really simple solutions for complex problems,” Dr Freudenthal told the BBC.

Hear problems are more common at high altitude.

Due to the high altitude and lack of oxygen in La Paz – 4,000 metres above sea level – Freudenthal says that these kind of problems are 10 times more frequent here than in other countries.

Some indigenous communities in Bolivia considers manipulating a heart as an act of desecration on the human soul. Freudenthal’s minimally invasive approach helps to avoid these cultural barriers to treatment.

“By not operating with an open heart” says Dr Freudenthal, “We are also respecting the will of many patients who would not want their children to be operated otherwise.”

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Source and Images: BBC

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