A Bolivian doctor revolutionises treatment of a congenital heart defect called PDA, persistent Ductus Arteriosus, by using weaving traditions of indigenous Bolivian women to delicately craft flexible metal implants that can be used to treat adults and children without rupturing. Sharon Reich has more.
When he was just three years old, Dario Flores' mother noticed his growth was irregular. He wasn't gaining weight and seemed to tire easily. For several years Dario was treated for malnutrition, until doctors discovered he suffers from a congenital heart defect called PDA, short for Persistent Ductus Arteriosus. In patients with PDA, there is a foetal blood vessel that doesn't close as it should and leads to irregular blood flow between the aorta and the pulmonary artery. Dario's mother Pilar Albomoz recalls how she heard the new diagnosis. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) MOTHER OF CHILD PATIENT DARIO FLORES, PILAR ALBORNOZ, SAYING: "They told me that he had an opening of one and a half centimetres. When I came back to the hospital with the results in hand I ran into a doctor who told me there was nothing he could do ... the state did not cover these sorts of treatments or cures. I was so desperate I didn't know what to do, and the doctor told me to come back two months later." That's where cardiologist Franz Freudenthal comes in. He developed a new kind of implant designed to correct the tiny openings in children's hearts that haven't closed and if left untreated can be fatal. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) CARDIOLOGIST AND PEDIATRICIAN FRANZ FREUDENTHAL, SAYING: "The population here (in La Paz) lives at up to 4000 metres above sea level, and there are many patients of around with very serious problems, since they have gone on for many years without diagnosis or treatment. In these cases we have to use very large implants, which in most cases you can't find on the market, so we had to produce them." After looking at numerous materials for the implants, Freudenthal settled on Nitinol, a mix of titanium and nickel that has memory and can readopt its shape. As for creating the coiled implants, he turned to the delicate and skilled weaving of Indigenous Bolivian women. This technique enabled him to make an implant that consists of only one single thread, and can be inserted through a tiny catheter, avoiding ruptures. Dr. Alexandra Heath has been working closely with Freudenthal's team and says the new implant has significantly reduced the number of patients suffering from PDA. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) CARDIOLOGIST AND PEDIATRICIAN, DOCTOR ALEXANDRA HEATH, SAYING: "We used to import implants from the United States but they couldn't be used very easily … we only had success with 50 percent of the children, more or less. Now there are only three out of some 300 to whom we have not been able to give the implant." As for Dario, he's still being monitored regularly. But with the help of the new implant, he's been given a chance to grow up healthy in this thriving metropolis.