Former 'Iron Chef' Star and Ground Zero Hero James Kelly Undergoes Double Lung Transplant

The sous chef developed lung disease related to exposure at the World Trade Center during 9/11 where he handed out meals at Ground Zero to first responders

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Former Iron Chef star James Kelly received a double lung transplant after developing lung disease from exposure while volunteering at the World Trade Center in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The New York-based chef, 58, underwent the major surgery in March 2022 at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. Fortunately, he has experienced a smooth recovery and credits that to his doctors.

"I received my double lung transplant on March 3rd of this year. You would never know it if you see or speak to me. I don't even feel like I had a major surgery. I owe that to Dr. Seethamraju," Kelly told Fox News, the first outlet to break the news, on Friday.

Dr. Harish Seethamraju and Dr. Scott Scheinin recently joined Mount Sinai Health System as leaders in the new Lung Failure and Transplant Program. Dr. Scheinin is the Director of Lung Transplantation and will help to launch Mount Sinai's new Lung Failure and Transplant Program and Dr. Seethamraju, Scheinin's long-term colleague, is the Medical Director of the Lung Failure and Transplantation program.

Mount Sinai is one of only a few hospitals in New York City to offer lung transplants — and Kelly's was their first.

"Now that Mr. Kelly is well on his way to a full recovery, we are confident he can once again return to the kitchen and to cook for his many admirers which is what makes him the most grateful and happy," Dr. Scheinin told PEOPLE.

He continued, "Mount Sinai Health System has a long history of being a preeminent provider of Cardio-Thoracic and transplantation services. With the addition of the end-stage pulmonary failure and pulmonary transplant service lines, we hope to enhance our ability to reach a broader patient base in the tri-state area and beyond."

He also noted that their collaboration with Mount Sinai's National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute "will also provide many clinical and basic science research opportunities for those patients suffering from advanced chronic lung disease."

Back in 2007, Kelly appeared in Season 4 of Food Network's Iron Chef America as the sous chef to his brother, Chef Peter Kelly. With James's help, Peter beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay in the cook-off.

Doctors believe that his lung disease is related to his exposure at the World Trade Center following 9/11 when he volunteered to hand out meals to first responders, per a press release. Despite this, Kelly said that he was "blessed" to help.

"I did what I could in those first few days after the towers fell," Kelly told Fox News. "Like so many, I returned to work thinking about how blessed I was to be able to help in some small way."

He also reflected on how grateful he was to undergo the lung transplant.

"It's humbling, humbling, humbling," Kelly said. "To think that someone, the last thing they want to do before they leave, is to pass on life to someone else – thinking of someone else is…I couldn't find the words for it. It's tremendous, it leaves me speechless."

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