The Transplant that Changed Robert Emmet’s Life and His New Book that Could Change Yours

By Erin Evans

After enduring a double-lung transplant and the resulting PTSD, retired English teacher Robert Emmet, 70, took his therapist’s suggestion to write a book about his experience.

His book, Close to My Heart: The Terrifying, Sometimes Humorous Journey to a Double-Lung Transplant, will be published soon, likely in early or mid-June.

Robert Emmet

When a persistent cough and near-drowning incident took Emmet to the doctor in 2015, they discovered that he had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), an incurable disease resulting in lung scarring, difficulty breathing, and eventual death. His only hope of surviving more than a year was a double-lung transplant—a surgery with a fifty percent chance of survival that he hadn’t known was possible.

Once he was on the donor list, Emmet luckily only had to wait eight days before his doctors found donor lungs for him. After a ten-hour surgery and a much longer recovery, he got back to his life with his wife, Jackie, daughter, Zachera, and son-in-law, Ryan, the people who supported him through the entire process.

Since his surgery, Emmet wrote that his life has changed. To begin with, he has to take a “large ‘basket’ of meds, which at one point totaled thirty-seven pills a day” to suppress his immune system from rejecting his new lungs. He also has a different view of his life.

“Life is so powerful the thought of letting down the people who gave my life back enters strongly into the equation …View of dying—no change. Wanting to make everyone’s work worthwhile—big change,” he wrote.

Another change:  “Sometimes, out of the blue, flashes of situations, operating rooms, patients, and doctors appear and send my mind whirling,” he wrote.

When his therapist suggested writing a book to deal with these mild PTSD symptoms, Emmet said it made sense to him and he thought, “I really ought to do that.”

“While writing, emotions come streaming out, sentiments I didn’t see coming, or expected from deep inside. They harken back to feelings in the hospital room, in surgery, being in the ICU, gliding down a long hallway on a gurney, seeing people look as we wheeled by,” wrote Emmet.

Close to My Heart truly does take you along on a journey, as the title suggests, giving you the feeling that you’ve made a friend in Emmet and leaving you with the laughter and insights he shares—not only into life-altering surgery, but into life, support, and caring. Emmet’s tone is conversational, as if he is talking directly to the reader, whether telling the story of how he pulled a three-foot wire out of his throat or presenting a hilarious and informative list of explanations for terms used in the hospital (ASAP, for example, “only translates to ‘hospital time,’ not real time. ASAP doesn’t happen—too busy for ASAP.”).

Not only is this book a gift for anyone going through surgery, particularly a transplant, with a narrator who understands exactly what you’re going through, but it holds a lot of value for anyone, even those who have never set foot in a hospital room. While the book is about his transplant, it is, at its heart, much more than that.

“It’s a lot about humanity and being human,” Emmet said. “I wrote the book because … I truly believe it’s important to care.” Throughout the book, he tells of his gratitude to everyone who saved his life and his need to keep living and make all of their work worthwhile.

“I’ve always had a belief that my life has been positive,” Emmet said, explaining that he was never afraid of death, but, “I don’t want to die now.” How much everyone cared about him and worked to keep him alive continues to inspire him do everything he can to live as long and as well as possible for these people.

In this book, he wants to inspire people to care, perhaps, “enough to donate an organ if someone in your family died…I mean, how can you care more than that?”

Before this book, Emmet wrote poetry. His poems were inspired by happenings in the 1960s, while he was growing up. At this time, he said, people were taking music—a form of poetry—in new directions, which affected his own writing. He plans to write a book in the future mixing his life with the poetry he has written.

Emmet now spends his time writing, painting, biking, and trying to stay healthy, particularly in the pandemic. His advice to other writers is to “keep it real.”

“I didn’t want to write any conversation…that didn’t sound real,” he said.

Once the book is published, Emmet plans to start doing book signings, one of which will be at Boyne Mountain Resort, most likely later in June. It will be available for purchase online from Amazon, IngramSpark, and Emmet’s website, robertemmetauthor.com.

Erin Evans graduated from Bellaire High School and the Front Street Writers program. She plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall, tentatively planning on a creative writing major. You can find her blog at www.frontstreetwriters.com.