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This pea-size device helps fix holes in babies’ hearts

The Amplatzer Piccolo Occluder—a winner of Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards—helps fix a congenital heart defect that occurs in some newborns.

This pea-size device helps fix holes in babies’ hearts

Abbott’s range of entries to Fast Company’s 2o20 World Changing Ideas Awards made it our selection for World Changing Company of the Year. While the company is currently a major player in helping ramp up the testing capacity for COVID-19, its entries included doing work on fighting malaria, advancing the careers of underrepresented people in STEM, and the creation of a new implant for babies’ hearts—the Amplatzer Piccolo Occluder.

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The Amplatzer Piccolo Occluder is a big solution for very small patients. It’s used to treat premature newborns with a heart defect known as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), a congenital condition that affects some 12,000 U.S. newborns a year.

[Illustration: John Devolle]
Prior to birth, all babies have an opening in their hearts that allows blood to bypass the lungs (which aren’t used in the womb). Typically, this hole closes up shortly after birth, but for babies with PDA, it doesn’t. PDA makes it difficult for preemies to breathe and can be fatal. Traditional treatment for this group (infants as small as 2 pounds) was to put babies on ventilators and hope the hole closed on its own, or in some cases risk invasive surgery.

The FDA-approved Piccolo offers another option: A tiny device, about the size of a pea, is delivered via catheter through an artery in the baby’s leg and up to the heart. Once positioned, the occluder creates a dam that corrects blood flow almost immediately. Abbott’s global director of marketing, Wim Stegink, reports that “some of the babies we’ve treated get off ventilators days after the procedure.”

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