Andean Technology Saves Children’s Lives

I was struck by the headline, “The Bolivian Women Who Knits Parts for Hearts”. As I read further, I realized that it wasn’t a true ‘knitting’ but an ancient interlacing!. The problem is one of congenital heart defects that need to be fixed by using some sort of plug, rather than employing open heart surgery, which is both expensive and may have negative implications for a person’s soul, according to some traditions, as reported by the BBC. (Reference)

According to “Heart to Heart, International Children’s Alliance, ”On the continent of South America, 65,000 babies are born annually with congenital heart defects.” Congenital cardiovascular malformations are common at altitude, with patent ductus arteriosus being 15 times more common at Cerro de Pasco than at sea level in Lima. (High Altitude Medicine and Physiology 5E John B. West, Robert B. Schoene, Andrew M. Luks, James S. Milledge)

Congenital heart Defects (CHD) include simple defects, such as a hole in the septum (the wall that divides the chambers of the heart, or an open structure, called the ductus arteriosus that fails to close properly after birth. The hole changes the way blood flows through the heart and to the rest of the body.

The first is an issue within the heart. According to National Heart and Lung Institute, “The heart has two sides, separated by an inner wall called the septum. With each heartbeat, the right side of the heart receives oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The left side of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the body. The septum prevents mixing of blood between the two sides of the heart. However, some babies are born with holes in the upper or lower septum.” (Reference)

A second, but related problem is that of patent ductus arteriosus. The ductus arteriosus is a normal blood vessel that connects two major arteries — the aorta and the pulmonary artery — that carry blood away from the heart in a developing fetus.

“The lungs are not used while a fetus is in the womb because the baby gets oxygen directly from the mother’s placenta. The ductus arteriosus diverts blood away from the lungs and sends it directly to the body. When a newborn breathes and begins to use the lungs, the ductus is no longer needed and usually closes during the first 2 days after birth.”(Reference)

Approximately 6,000 are infants are born in Peru with defects that are found, and 3,000 of them will need surgical intervention by the time they are three years of age, if they are to survive. The cardiac community of Peru currently has the annual capacity to perform surgery on approximately 750 children with less severe forms of CHD. Because the unmet need greatly exceeds capacity, the backlog of young patients in Peru grows dramatically each year.”

The use of ancient weaving methods, as written about previously in Cusco Eats is being used to save the children.


Using an interesting elastic ‘memory metal’ named nitinol, women of the Andes are using the ancient interlacing techniques to create ‘occuldars’ that act as a plug for the holes that have failed to close in the hearts of these infants. Developed by Bolivian cardiologist Franz Freudenthal, the occluders are guided through the blood vessels to the hole, where the nitinol is activated.

The devices cannot be mass produced, they must be hand ‘woven’ using the ancient ways of looming or interlacing. This provides the proper shape – sort of like a Chinese finger trap that will hold itself in place for the rest of the child’s life.

Blending ancient ways with modern methods and materials, children are saved with minimal costs.

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