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  HOME | Bolivia

Bolivian Indian Weavers Help Science Save Children’s Lives

LA PAZ – Aymara Indian weavers currently offer medical science some invaluable help with unique hand-woven survival devices for children with congenital heart disease, in Bolivia and in other parts of the world.

One of the weavers, Karina Iturri, said in an interview with EFE that it is very meticulous work that requires months of training, a lot of patience, steady hands and not a little technology.

The devices are hand-woven in La Paz at the PFM company, run by Bolivian pediatrician Franz Freudenthal, the inventor of these apparatuses that have saved the lives of at least 500 children in Bolivia and more than 50,000 worldwide.

Dr. Freudenthal has won international acclaim for his life-saving invention.

The 20 women who work on the project, either Aymaras or with Aymara roots, have the responsibility of weaving the devices on circular steel molds with a single fine nitinol wire (an alloy of nickel and titanium), which means that each one is unique.

The afflictions treated with these woven devices are congenital heart disease in children, specifically patent ductus arteriosus and interauricular communication, for which it is necessary to weave the device in different sizes, depending on the extent of the cardiac problem.

“At first, it’s complex, and some jobs have brought me to tears because the wire is as thin as a hair, and you must be very careful that it doesn’t bend or fray or break because then the piece is not worth anything,” said Iturri, who has been doing this for 10 years.

She like all the others learned weaving from her mother, but to join the medical products staff she had to train for three months at a weaving school, not only in the technique but also in manufacturing best practices.

“Those three months also help the weavers know how to dress right, habits of cleanliness while weaving the devices and in that way offer a product of the very best quality,” Quality Control Supervisor Olga Murguia told EFE.

Iturri recalled her feelings the first time Dr. Freudenthal told her that the tissue she had woven was implanted in a little girl and that her weaving skill saved a life.

“It’s a great responsibility for all of us who weave these devices because they can save a life – it’s the best thing one person can do for another,” Iturri said.

Another weaver, Julia Yapita, told EFE that this work makes her and the others happy, since they feel proud of contributing their skills to give a sick child a second chance.

“We know it’s not like weaving clothes, we know it’s going to someone’s heart and that’s no joke, which is why we put our five senses and all our interest into doing it well,” she said.

These hand-woven heart remedies go to Europe, parts of Asia and to Latin American countries like Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil.

Freudenthal was honored in 2014 with the Innovators of America Award in the Science and Technology category for the creation of this product.


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