In Bolivia, Knitters Treat Heart Defects

Nit Occlud PDA-R

Nit Occlud PDA-R

If you’re a Bolivian kid with PDA (Persistent Ductus Arteriosus–a blood vessel that in the womb allowed blood flow to bypass your non-working lungs didn’t close at it should have when you were born, so your heart and your lungs have to work too hard now to keep you breathing), chances are that your heart defect will be treated with a Nit Occlud PDA-R.

And chances are that Nit Occlud PDA-R will be knitted for you by a Bolivian woman.

The Nit Occlud PDA-R is the brainchild of cardiologist Dr. Franz Freudenthal, and it was developed specifically to treat the kids in his area; their heart defects may have gone undiagnosed or untreated for a long time, so they require a wonky size of implant that’s bigger than what newborns need but smaller than what adults need. Those implants are hard to come by and expensive when you can get them, so Dr. Freudenthal invented his own, and he hired knitters to make them for him.

The local manufacturing allows the Nit Occlud PDA-R to be created more cheaply, and it allows the employment of Bolivian women to perform a modern, high-tech version of their traditional, local handicraft, but I’m mostly excited that this hand-knit solution was chosen because it just WORKS better than a machine-manufactured option. The knitted structure means that it can conform to a variety of sizes of heart defects. No welds mean no weak spots and much less potential for breakage or corrosion. And its small size means that it can be inserted during a minimally invasive procedure, with no open heart surgery necessary.

With the advent of 3D printing, I think that there’s been a sea change that is leading innovators towards the idea of more local, individual, custom-fitted treatment parts. I hope to see more problems solved by applying traditional handicraft skills, and I also hope to see these skills combined with 3D printing to result in cost-effective, customized solutions that are accessible and widely available to all who need them.

Photo credit: Nit Occlud PDA-R image via Dr. Franz Freudenthal

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