In Memoriam: Emmet B. Keeffe, M.D.


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • As a testament to Dr. Keeffe's contributions to our field at large, this commentary is being jointly published in the November 2011 issue of the following journals (as unanimously agreed upon by the respective Editors): American Journal of Gastroenterology, Gastroenterology, Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, Hepatology, and Liver Transplantation.

It is with profound sadness that we note the unexpected passing of Dr. Emmet B. Keeffe on August 8, 2011, at the age of 69. He passed away peacefully, after a sudden cerebral hemorrhage, surrounded by his loving family. Emmet is survived by his wife, Melenie; children, Emmet III (and his wife Deborah), Brian (and his wife Kristin), and Meghan (and her husband Simon); eight grandsons, Emmet IV, Mason, Miles, Ellis, Finley, Gilbert, Oscar, and Louis; and sisters, Lorelle Goold and Sharon Keeffe. His sister, Michele Donovan predeceased him.

A third-generation San Franciscan who attended St. Ignatius High School, Emmet graduated from the University of San Francisco and received his medical degree from Creighton University in 1969. He completed postgraduate training in internal medicine and gastroenterology at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and research training in hepatology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). At OHSU, David Bristow, Chair of Medicine at the time, and John Benson, Jr., who was Chief of Gastroenterology and who subsequently became president of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) were major influences on Emmet's academic career. Emmet then fulfilled his military obligation and spent 3 years at Oakland Naval Regional Medical Center. The Naval Hospital was clearly fortunate in recruiting 2 talented gastroenterologists that year, Emmet Keeffe and Neil Kaplowitz. On the advice of David Bristow and John Benson, Emmet pursued an advanced research fellowship for 2 years with Bruce Scharschmidt and Robert Ockner at UCSF. Emmet was highly productive at UCSF, and while there published 5 manuscripts including first-author papers in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and in Gastroenterology describing studies of rat plasma membrane fluidity and the relationship between bile flow, sodium–potassium ATPase, and membrane microviscosity.

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Subsequent to his fellowship training, Emmet held several academic positions. In 1979, he joined the faculty at the OHSU and rose to the rank of Professor of Medicine. In 1992, he moved back to his native city and became Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Medical Director of the Liver Transplant Program at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center (currently California Pacific Medical Center) in San Francisco. He was also appointed Clinical Professor of Medicine at the UCSF. In 1995, he was recruited to Stanford University as Professor of Medicine, Chief of Hepatology, and Medical Director of the Liver Transplant Program, where he assumed these roles from 1995 to 2008. In 2008, he became Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Stanford University. His other appointments between 2008 and 2011 included working as Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Romark Laboratories, L.C., and more recently until his passing as Principal Medical Fellow at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Incorporated.

Emmet held numerous leadership and editorial positions that spanned several subspecialties within the field of gastroenterology and hepatology. He was the 1995–1996 President of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and the 2004–2005 President of the AGA. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Liver Foundation (1991–1995) and the American Digestive Health Foundation (1994 –2001), serving as Vice Chair of Public Health Programs and Chair of the Digestive Health Initiative. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the AGA Foundation for Digestive Health and Nutrition, a member of the Board of Directors of the Northern California and Nevada Division of the American Liver Foundation, and Chair of Digestive Disease Week Council from 2000 to 2002. He was a member of the Subspecialty Board on Gastroenterology for the American Board of Internal Medicine from 2001 to 2007 and chairman and a member of the Board of Directors in 2007. Emmet was regularly listed in The Best Doctors in America, and was inducted into several honorary societies, including Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society, American Clinical and Climatological Association, North Pacific Society of Internal Medicine, and Pacific Interurban Clinical Club. He was honored with Mastership in the American College of Physicians, Honorary Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and Honorary Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians of UK. He is also a Fellow of the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and the American College of Gastroenterology.

Emmet held a number of editorial positions. He was an associate editor of Liver Transplantation and Surgery (1995–1999), Digestive Health & Nutrition (1999 –2004), and Reviews in Gastroenterological Disorders (2006–2007), and also section editor of Liver Transplantation for Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation (2000 –2007). He was editor-in-chief of Current Hepatitis B Reports, and had been until his passing serving as editor-in-chief of Digestive Diseases and Sciences, honorary editor-in-chief of the World Journal of Gastroenterology, and executive editor of He also served on the editorial boards of Gastroenterology, Revista de Gastroenterolog de México, Minerva Gastroenterologica e Dietologica, Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Therapy, The Open Hepatology Journal, and World Journal of Hepatology. He was a member of the editorial boards of Hepatology from 1993 to 2006 and Journal of Hepatology from 2000 to 2007.

Emmet's research and scholarly contributions over the last 30+ years bridged general and transplant hepatology, with a focus on antiviral therapy of chronic hepatitis, use of hepatitis vaccines, and liver transplant selection criteria and outcomes. He published more than 700 original papers, reviews, commentaries, and book chapters, and was a renaissance scholar in that his earlier work addressed not only basic mechanistic questions but also general gastroenterology and endoscopy studies and observations. Some examples of his earlier publications include reports dealing with pseudomembranous and other colitides, pancreatic insufficiency, Barrett's esophagus, and sedation practices among numerous other topics. Emmet was always proud of his trainees and their accomplishments, having mentored numerous residents and fellows who went on to become highly successful academicians across the United States and abroad. David Lieberman, Chief of Gastroenterology at OHSU commented: “Emmet mentored me and others at all levels: Professional, personal, family, and even parenting— and I have never been able to thank him enough.” A gesture echoed by all of his trainees. David Lieberman sent us a few Lessons from Emmet that we include verbatim:

“It is so hard to summarize a life and spirit in mere words. I was fortunate to become close friends with Emmet during his Oregon years (1979 –1992) and beyond. He was my academic mentor, running mate, back-packing companion, and wonderful friend. Long runs and hikes provided unique opportunities to take the measure of each other, and here are a few of the many lessons I learned from Emmet.

  • Medicine is all about the patient and effectively using the tools of medicine to help guide patients through what is often a terrifying experience. He was complete and rigorous, warm and compassionate, and a great communicator to patients and colleagues. His patients loved him; referring doctors admired and appreciated his wisdom. He was a remarkable role model.

  • Teaching is about giving—you are successful by helping your student achieve success. He expected rigor and hard work from his students—nothing less than he expected from himself. It was hard to “outwork” Emmet. He was generous in his praise and support, always humble, always ready to give credit to others.

  • Success is measured by being recognized as fair, honest, and respectful— even (and especially) by those who may disagree with you. In all of his professional and personal relationships, Emmet lived by this, and his “success” is reflected in the love and admiration of so many. His ability to bridge gaps, build consensus, and earn respect helped make him a great leader in our profession.

  • Family is number one—in everything he did, Emmet would always circle back to Melenie and his kids. They were his anchor. His priorities were clear and his love for them boundless.”

We have received countless emails and other communications, and the above sentiments are uniformly shared by all those who knew him as a relative, friend, mentor, colleague, boss, co-worker, or personal doctor. Here are brief samplings of additional comments by others: “He was a legend,” “an angel who helped his patients as a physician,” “a true scholar,” “a rain-maker and a born leader,” “3-in-1, mentor, colleague and a friend,” “an ambassador to the international field of gastroenterology,” “Mr. Efficiency,” “an exemplary human being,” “a class act,” “a dedicated mentor and generous friend,” and “my mother will never find a doctor like Professor Keeffe.” Emmet always considered himself very fortunate and blessed. He was gracious, content, unassuming, always smiling and on the go. He lived his life to its fullest. The fact that this obituary is being published by several of the gastroenterology and hepatology journals that represent the major societies in our field is a testament to how much Emmet was loved by all and a reflection of his contributions to the digestive disease field at large. The field of Gastroenterology and Hepatology has lost one of its giants, a man who was loved and respected by patients and colleagues. Emmet is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed and long remembered. We love you Emmet!