For the past 25 years, Dr. David Knighton’s life has been all about finding innovative ways to heal wounds.
Knighton, 62, is one of the world’s leading experts on nonhealing wounds, which are often caused by diabetes, vein disease or pressure sores.
An accomplished vascular surgeon, Knighton founded the University of Minnesota’s Wound Healing Institute in the mid-80s. Around the same time, he co-created Curative Technologies, a medical technology company now based in Atlanta that develops products stimulate to stimulate healing on those types of wounds.
He shares the wisdom gained both as a professional wound healer and as someone who’s overcome a good deal of personal trauma in his first book, “The Wisdom of the Healing Wound,” published this summer by Health Communications, Inc.
Knighton, who lives in Linden Hills, said that after nearly 30 years of studying physical, emotional and spiritual wounds, he’s come to see the processes governing the healing of all three as remarkably interconnected.
“Emotional, physical and spiritual healing all have similarities in how they occur,” he said. “Physical wounding, if deep enough, will always leave a scar, as will emotional wounding. The only difference is with a physical wound you can point to it and say, ‘here it is,’ but you can’t do that with emotional wounds.”
A healing journey
Knighton was already one of the country’s foremost experts on physical wounds when his journey toward healing his own emotional and spiritual wounds began.
It started in 1984 when a group of investors approached Knighton and expressed interest in making a significant investment in Curative Technologies.
“I had just started the company, and as I look back on my life at the time it was a mess,” Knighton said. “I was having affairs, working 100 hours per week, never slept. I was headed toward self-destruction, going 90,000 miles per hour and never stopping.”
Vance Fiegel, now president of St. Louis Park-based Embro Corporation, a research and testing laboratory that he co-founded with Knighton, has been friends with Knighton since 1984. Fiegel said that while Knighton’s talents were undeniable, it was clear that “he was burning the candle at both ends” during Curative Technologies’ early days.
Knighton’s emotional and spiritual wounds went deep. He was sexually abused by his grandfather as a child and grew up in a tightly controlled, evangelical family. He suffered from dyslexia and speech impediments and struggled in school.
Although he overcame his problems and was on his way toward a successful medical career by his early 20s, Knighton neglected the spiritual and emotional wounds that resulted from his difficult upbringing.
By the time Curative Technologies was born he was in poor health and his personal life was approaching rock bottom.
Sensing that Knighton was nearing a breakdown, the investors told him they wouldn’t invest in Curative Technologies unless he saw a business psychologist. The psychologist told Knighton he should enter therapy and referred him to Mic Hunter, a St. Paul-based therapist he has seen regularly ever since.
After years of neglect, therapy forced Knighton to address his spiritual and emotional wounds. Although the healing process took years, Knighton said that today he is happily married, healthy and as professionally successful as ever.
“My journey has changed my whole attitude toward how I live, what I do and the ethics of what I do — it’s changed everything,” he said.
Embracing the physical, psychological and spiritual
“The Wisdom of the Healing Wound” is about more than Knighton’s personal journey. Drawing from his extensive experience as a doctor, it also details the often neglected connection between physical and psychological healing.
To illustrate the connection, Knighton shared an anecdote about a nursing home resident who sought treatment for a nonhealing wound on her leg.
After a year of treatment, the woman’s wound still wouldn’t heal, but Knighton couldn’t identify any vascular problems. Finally, suspecting that the woman might be sabotaging the treatment, he coated the wound with a tetracycline powder that fluoresces under black light.
“When she came back, her nails were full of tetracycline,” Knighton said. “I said, ‘you know, you are doing this to yourself, what’s going on?’ She started to cry and told me that we were the only people who talked to her.”
Knighton assured her that she would still be welcome at the hospital if she allowed her wound to heal. She stopped scratching, her wound healed and she became a weekly fixture during downtimes at the hospital until the end of her life.
“That kind of experience, which I had with patient after patient after patient, showed me how important it is to connect with them and their life story,” Knighton said.
From a medical standpoint, the book encourages doctors to think about healing holistically.
Carelyn Fylling, a nurse, certified wound specialist and vice president of Maryland-based Cytomedix, a biotechnology company developing advanced tissue regeneration technologies, has known Knighton for 25 years and had high praise for his new book.
“When we get that wound to heal, a patient’s spirits lift dramatically,” she said. “Health professionals should pay attention to the emotional aspects, because when people are treated holistically they tend to do a lot better.”
Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected]