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A life of many ‘second chances’

Wairarapa disability advocate Peter Knighton. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND


Emily Ireland

Most people would call the life of Peter Knighton a tough one.

He calls it “blessed”.

The Wairarapa disability advocate has had more than his fair share of hardships, beginning before he was even born, yet lives with an optimism unmatched by many, making it his mission in life to show others that even in the darkest times, “there is always hope”.

Peter’s journey was first documented publicly in 1977.

He was 16 months old and his parents Judy and Bob Knighton had gone to the Takapuna Times newspaper, sharing their concerns about the effects the herbicide 2,4,5-T had on their son.

At that young age, Peter was suffering from a cancer-related disorder of the lymphatic system and had to be taken to Auckland Hospital every week for life-giving drugs.

While Judy was pregnant with Peter, a farm across the road from their home was heavily sprayed with the herbicide, drifting onto their roof and contaminating the family’s water tank.

“It didn’t affect mum because her immune system was fully developed, but because mine wasn’t, it affected me,” Peter said.

He grew normally until he was about three months old and his growth slowed.

“I didn’t like lying on my front and wouldn’t learn to crawl, so my parents bought me a walker.”

At nine months his parents found a lump behind his ear which doctors thought was a bruise.

“When it didn’t go away, it grew. I went in for surgery, and they found it was cancerous.

“I was diagnosed with a very rare and often terminal form of cancer.

“I started chemotherapy when I was ten months old.”

His mum told the Takapuna Times that she and her husband had “accepted the fact that Peter might die as a result of this”.

He went into remission, but after six months, the cancer returned, and he had to do another year of chemotherapy.

“It caused damage to my brain, which led to major speech impairment, frontal lobe damage and ataxic cerebral palsy, which affected the right side of my body.

“My frontal lobe functions at 3 per cent.”

In the years that followed Peter’s rough start to life, he faced other hardships including falling and cracking his head at school, being hit by a car, tripping and falling through a glass plate window, and being attacked by a dog.

At nine years old, he developed epilepsy with uncontrolled seizures.

These come less often now.

Later in life, Peter was sexually assaulted and tried to end his own life.

He puts his survival against the odds down to his strong faith and spiritual journey.

“Throughout my life I have had many operations, and many doctors predicted I would live in a wheel chair
or talk with a stutter, and even how long my life would be.

“I believe it was the fact that I’ve always had an awesome sense of determination and a loving spiritual upbringing, that I am still alive.”

“It may seem like you are in the darkest place in your life.

“But your breakdown is God’s breakthrough.

I want to show others there is hope – that there’s more to life than just what we see.”

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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