A group of indigenous women in Bolivia has come together to form a new kind of knitting club. Instead of the typical woolen hat or sweater, they are weaving thin elastic metal into small plugs that are used to block hearts that can cause health problems in children.

Patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA, is a medical condition that occurs when a major blood vessel used to transfer blood from a mother to fetus in the womb does not close after birth. If a baby’s vessel does not naturally heal, it can leave a hole in their heart that causes irregular blood flow. PDA is twice as common in girls as it is in boys and is significantly more likely to occur in premature babies.

If the condition is mild, a baby can survive, and in some cases live, without symptoms. However, in countries with high altitudes — such as Bolivia — the condition is almost 10 times more frequent. Bolivia has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world and is one of the poorest countries in South America. There is a clear correlation between high infant mortality rates and poverty: in the past decade, U.S. federal health officials have released studies that show that infant mortality rates are 60 percent higher among women living below the poverty line. The mortality gap between rich and poor countries is, at least in part, created by the lack of adequate health care for people living in poverty-stricken countries.

PDA is generally treated with medicines or surgery. However, in poor or rural communities, it can be difficult to find the necessary medication or a clinic capable of safely performing the procedure. An alternate treatment is needed for patients who suffer from PDA but cannot afford the traditional treatment route.

This is where the Nit Occlud device comes in. Created by Dr. Franz Freudenthal, an Occluder is a tiny metal top hat-shaped device that can be inserted into the body through a catheter. The Occluder is folded so it is small enough to travel through a patient’s blood vessel until it reaches their heart. Once it finds the hole in the heart, it expands to its original size and shape and fills the hole, allowing the heart to function properly.

Dr. Freudenthal’s solution to PDA allows patients to avoid seeking expensive medication or complicated surgeries because it is cheap and accessible. With the help of individuals like the women in the Bolivian knitting group, Occluders can be made locally at a low cost by utilizing a skill already available within the community.

Medical solutions that are viable in poor countries are particularly valuable because patients living in those countries are more likely to face barriers to receiving treatment. Dr. Freudenthal’s Occluder is a wonderful example of how innovative treatments are making a difference in the lives of patients, not only in Bolivia but around the world.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: BBC, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, New York Times
Photo: BBC

David Ortiz could take a shot at running for Massachusetts governor, and he would probably make the race a close one. Ortiz is the most popular baseball player in the New England area, and the most accomplished designated hitter (DH) in baseball history. Ortiz is known for his flair for the dramatic, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat with his mammoth home run power. However, Ortiz is not just another egotistic human with a knack for hitting baseballs. David Ortiz is a man driven by nature to help others less fortunate than him, in any way he possibly can. The David Ortiz Children’s Fund (DOCF) was founded to aid less fortunate children around the world to obtain the best supplies and circumstances they can.

The DOCF was founded in 2006 after Ortiz visited a local hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Ortiz was shocked by the resilience of the children who had just gone through heart surgery, and he vowed to help children throughout the world that could not have access to the facilities New England children could. Therefore, DOCF was founded to assist the other children worldwide.

Since its founding, DOCF has been making a difference through its partnership with two other charities, Heart Care Dominicana and World Pediatric Project. By joining forces with these programs that have similar goals, Ortiz is fulfilling his goal of benefiting children that would otherwise be faced to fend for problems on their own.

Heart Care Dominicana is a non-profit organization that provides cardiovascular care for families that cannot afford it in the Dominican Republic. Heart Care Dominicana has two main goals: providing the care needed and training personnel in communities to solve problems internally. The program began its first operation in 2006 and has been working hard to accomplish its goals. DOCF is one of the major financial backing forces behind the program, and with continued support the cardiovascular care program will continue to thrive.

World Pediatric Project (WPP) is focused on improving the quality of life and providing healthcare services to children in the Caribbean and Central America areas. WPP has four main goals: to send surgical and diagnostic teams to communities to provide care, to develop illness prevention programs, to provide transportation for children who need treatment in American facilities, and to build up the local healthcare workforce.

By aligning with these programs, DOCF is achieving its starting goals. Ortiz is helping the world’s children through the programs with which he has partnered, impacting lives in droves. The health programs have been successful for many years. With continued support from DOCF and other charities, WPP and Heart Care Dominicana can continue to change lives. Ortiz is living up to the vow he made in 2006, and he proves it every time a child receives healthcare that was previously unattainable.

– Zachary Wright

Sources: World Pediatric Project, Heart Care Dominicana
Photo: Boston Sports