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


  • As a testament to Emmet B. Keeffe's contributions to our field at large, this commentary is being jointly published in the following journals (as unanimously decided by their 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 years. Surrounded by his loving family, he passed away peacefully after a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. Emmet is survived by his wife Melenie; his children Emmet III (and his wife Deborah), Brian (and his wife Kristin), and Meghan (and her husband Simon); his 8 grandsons Emmet IV, Mason, Miles, Ellis, Finley, Gilbert, Oscar, and Louis; and his sisters Lorelle Goold and Sharon Keeffe. His sister Michele Donovan predeceased him. 1.

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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 Oregon Health & Science University and research training in hepatology at the University of California San Francisco. At Oregon Health & Science University, David Bristow, who was chair of medicine at the time, and John Benson Jr., who was chief of gastroenterology and subsequently became president of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Gastroenterological Association, 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 Jr., Emmet pursued an advanced research fellowship for 2 years with Bruce Scharschmidt and Robert Ockner at the University of California San Francisco. Emmet was highly productive at the University of California San Francisco, and while he was there, he published 5 articles; these included first-author papers in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and Gastroenterology describing studies of rat plasma membrane fluidity and the relationship between bile flow, sodium-potassium ATPase, and membrane microviscosity.

Subsequent to his fellowship training, Emmet held several academic positions. In 1979, he joined the faculty at Oregon Health & Science University 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 the California Pacific Medical Center) in San Francisco. He was also appointed to be a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. In 1995, he was recruited to Stanford University to be a professor of medicine, the chief of hepatology, and the medical director of the Liver Transplant Program; he assumed these roles from 1995 to 2008. In 2008, he became a professor of medicine emeritus at Stanford University. His other appointments from 2008 to 2011 included vice president and chief medical officer at Romark Laboratories, L.C., and more recently (until his passing) principal medical fellow at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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 American Gastroenterological Association. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Liver Foundation (1991-1995) and the American Digestive Health Foundation (1994-2001) and served as the vice chair of Public Health Programs and the chair of the Digestive Health Initiative. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Gastroenterological Association 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 the 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 the chair 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 the Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society, the American Clinical and Climatological Association, the North Pacific Society of Internal Medicine, and the Pacific Interurban Clinical Club. He was honored with mastership in the American College of Physicians, an honorary fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and an honorary fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom. He was 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 was also the section editor of Liver Transplantation for Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation (2000-2007). He was the editor-in-chief of Current Hepatitis B Reports and until his passing served as the editor-in-chief of Digestive Diseases and Sciences, the honorary editor-in-chief of the World Journal of Gastroenterology, and the executive editor of He also served on the editorial boards of Gastroenterology, Revista de Gastroenterología de México, Minerva Gastroenterologica e Dietologica, Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Therapy, The Open Hepatology Journal, and the World Journal of Hepatology. He was a member of the editorial boards of Hepatology (1993-2006) and the Journal of Hepatology (2000-2007).

Emmet's research and scholarly contributions over the last 30+ years bridged general and transplant hepatology and focused on antiviral therapy for chronic hepatitis, the use of hepatitis vaccines, and liver transplant selection criteria and outcomes. He published more than 700 original papers, reviews, commentaries, and book chapters, and he 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 colitis 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 and 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 Oregon Health & Science University, 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.” This gesture is echoed by all 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 these sentiments are uniformly shared by all those who knew him as a relative, friend, mentor, colleague, boss, coworker, 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, and 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 field of digestive diseases 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!