The wound care community recently lost one of its dear and respected family members, Dr. David Rovee. Dr. Rovee recently passed away following a long battle with a chronic illness. He had a long, distinguished career as a scientist helping guide new wound treatment technologies to the market and as an educator serving as only the second Clinical Editor of Wounds. He and the work that he had done made a lasting impression on me that influenced my wound care career. 

Many years ago, I was honored to meet Dr. Rovee during a visit to Boston. The next year, while sitting in the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Dr. Rovee invited me to be on the Editorial Advisory Board of Wounds. I thought that was interesting since I had no idea that he even knew if I could spell “wounds” much less be a manuscript reviewer. I figured that if he was crazy enough to ask me, then I was foolish enough to accept; thus, began my association with the journal. During those years, I became aware of his work and influence to help guide people conducting research in wounds and those of us trying to manage patients with wounds. Under his guidance, the journal grew to be well-respected in the wound care community.

After 15 years at the helm of Wounds, Dr. Rovee decided to move to other endeavors. He left a legacy of excellence and accomplishment, but he was always available to provide guidance and help. He was a constant source of encouragement and help to me as we worked to continue moving the journal forward. We were all saddened to hear of his illness and death. Everyone who knew him will miss his upbeat attitude, his friendly nature, his willingness to help in any way, his scientific expertise, and his friendship.

Terry Treadwell, MD, FACS
Senior Clinical Editor, Wounds

When a treasured mentor like David Rovee dies there is an empty space in life, but far more space full of shared thoughts and deeds that continue to enrich us in ways beyond our knowing.

David was an extraordinary leader and mentor whose work helped lay the scientific foundation for moist wound healing. He was an accomplished drummer who once played with Dave Brubeck, but his graduate work on regeneration at Brown University led him to choose a skin biology career where he led pioneering work on moist wound healing, electrobiology, and cutaneous research with increasing responsibilities at Johnson & Johnson in the 1970s and 1980s before leading Organogenesis to foster the development of skin replacement products. 

He had a gift for encouraging collaboration among wound care clinicians and scientists, invited global experts to in-house skin biology seminars, and helped organize landmark symposia at Pebble Beach and Tarpon Springs that led to new friendships, discoveries, and widely used text books.1-3

David’s sense of humor made him fun to work with and taught me by example how to manage the “slings and arrows” of corporate life. Soon after he hired this young scientist fresh from academia, a high-level boss who had a bit too much to drink at a company event confronted him loudly saying, “Rovee, why the h…l did you hire a woman?” With an easy grin, David defused the moment and won my enduring loyalty, responding, “Because she’s a good scientist.”

Among the other gifts David left to enrich my life were lessons that may be useful to others who wish to become academic, government, or corporate scientists:

  • Integrity is one thing no one can take from you. Wise colleagues respect it.
  • If you’re enjoying doing what you love, you’re doing it right.
  • There is opportunity in everything. We just have to find it.
  • Science is listening to nature. Those who listen well discover much.
  • Companies who make and market products that work are profitable and fun.
  • Evidence-based development makes products that work.
  • Appreciate those around you and encourage development of their gifts. 
  • Science with integrity spans and unites universities, governments, and industry.

Thank you, David! Your legacy endures. It was great learning from you.

Laura Bolton, PhD
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ

I first met Dave Rovee when I was a junior faculty member in the University of Southern California Obstetrics and Gynecology Department. I had just completed a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in ovarian physiology when I received a series of phone calls from Cary Linksy, then Eli Pines, and finally Dave. Those calls changed the course of my career over the ensuing 40 years. Ultimately, those calls also changed the way doctors think about peritoneal healing, the response of the peritoneal cavity to surgical injury, and ways to improve surgical outcomes. 

Dave convinced me to become part of his team, which included Cary, Eli, and Tim Cunningham, to see if we could develop devices to reduce adhesion formation following peritoneal surgery. This was back in the late 1970s when Dave was the Vice President of Research for Johnson & Johnson Patient Care. At that time, adhesion formation, a major complication of surgery involving any mesothelial tissue, was a “given” much like “death and taxes.” They just happened, and they ruined the outcome of many surgical procedures. 

Dave had a different vision. Based on his groundbreaking research of dermal healing and the importance of moisture to facilitate cell survival and motility, Dave hypothesized that tissue repair in general, including peritoneal repair and mesothelial repair, could be improved. His vision was heretical to the then existing dogma and, at the time, easily dismissed. But it was also insightful and inspirational to his team. Dave continually supported our efforts in developing a product for the novel indication of adhesion reduction. The courage this took can only be appreciated by those in the industry who have put their job on the line to invest in an entirely new indication — new to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), new to sales executives, and new to physicians. 

Under the direction of Eli, and with the help of Kathy Rodgers, we created unique animal models, which are industry standard today, to test various devices we created to see if there was something that could be done to reduce or even prevent postsurgical adhesion formation. These efforts led to identification of TC-7 (T: Tim; C: Carey; 7: 7th knit of oxidized-reduced cellulose), which is now known around the world as INTERCEED. A novel indication requires creative communication and support by the FDA as well as new clinical trial designs, which Dave achieved as he built his team (we called it a “skunk works”). In 1987, Dave’s commitment to improving surgical outcomes turned into reality when the FDA’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Devices Panel approved this first-in-kind product. Throughout the Panel proceedings, Dave sat in the back of the room following the ebb and flow of the meeting, appearing entirely confident in the outcome. His “half-time coaching” was very helpful to Eli and me as we entered the afternoon Q&A and final vote to approve.  

Dave’s support throughout the entire product development program opened an entirely new area of surgical therapeutics. Over the years, there have been many that followed his path and, today, adhesion prevention devices are widely available from many companies around the world. Adhesion prevention has become a billion-dollar business, the proceeds of which have allowed development of other surgical devices. Most important are the impacts these devices have in patients’ lives, improving the outcomes of cardiac, tendon, and spinal surgery as well as laparoscopic and robotic procedures performed in the peritoneal cavity for gastrointestinal, gynecology, urologic, and oncologic procedures. 

Thus, I believe Dave Rovee continues to “live on” through his contributions to our thinking about tissue repair, surgery, and wound care. We will continue his path of challenging the status quo and creating new standards of care to improve patient outcomes based on solid science — and more than a little bit of courage.

Gere Dizerega, MD
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, CA

David Rovee played a massive role in the formation of a medical discipline called wound healing or, better yet, tissue repair. As a Johnson & Johnson scientist and educator, he came along at a time when science was undergoing great changes with the tools available in the lab to better understand some of the events of repair and how to use bench science to define these events. He had the insight to use the financial power of his employer at the time to support clinical meetings and basic research projects to better understand the biology of healing, hence improving the healing process; in addition, Eli Pines was a great help in these early moves. 

Similarly, when Dr. Rovee moved to Boston to lead Organogenesis, I found him to be a great source of guidance in how to form the Wound Healing Society (WHS) — or whether we should really start a foundation. A society it was, and after 4 to 5 years of getting started in my Plastic Surgery Research Lab of Tissue Repair at Virginia Commonwealth University (with the support and great ideas of my chief technician Barbara Ettner and the young National Institutes of Health post doc Bob Diegelman, who got involved a bit later), WHS gained a period of true independence with strong support from many in the field. There are many challenges ahead on what the academic arm of wound repair and regeneration should look like, but young leadership will continue to improve its academic and financial freedom. The success thus far, in part, is due to Dr. Rovee.

Irwin Kelman Cohen, MD, PhD.Hon
Founding Member, Wound Healing Society

David Rovee is, in my book, the gold standard of professionalism. Articulate and soft-spoken, David mentored me with respect, kindness, and patience, and, over the years, I have come to appreciate how important these qualities are in the workplace and in life. His intelligence, guidance, and, of course, vast knowledge of wound care biology were critical to making Wounds the prestigious journal it is today. Dave was also a genuinely nice person, and it was always a treat to talk to him on the phone or in person. I was fortunate to get to know his wife Joanne as well, as she and I chatted on the phone often when I would call Dave’s home office. 

I recall with fondness the last time I spoke with Dave. It was a few years ago, long after he had resigned from Wounds as Clinical Editor and I had moved on to another company. I had written him an email earlier that day just to say hello and was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from him. He told me how pleased he was to hear from me and that, after clicking on all the journal website links in my email signature, he thought a phone call was in order so that I could tell him more about the company I was with and the publications I was working on. And that’s how I will always remember Dave: professional, intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. Dave set the standard. 

Elizabeth Klumpp
Former Managing Editor (1997-2004), Wounds 

I was very saddened to hear the news of David’s passing. I spent a few years working for David and sharing the same lab. He was one of my key mentors, and it was a privilege to work for him. On occasion, I was able to get him to laugh, which was fun to watch. We had a very rich group then. A lot of products were initiated there, including DermaBond from Tripoint labs. At that time, it was a veterinary wound closure adhesive that underwent a thermal reaction upon contact with the water in blood, generating a small mushroom cloud. I remember David holding a watch glass with some not-yet-clotted blood surrounded by the group, all exclaiming a pendulant ahh as a drop of the cyanoacrylate contacted the blood and a small mushroom cloud erupted. It was beautiful.

When Dr. Laura Bolton left Johnson & Johnson and David moved up to Vice President, I was asked to clear the lab, “throw everything out.” However, I couldn’t throw out David’s characteristic coffee cup.

Barry Constantine
Former Research Scientist, Johnson & Johnson