‘Iron Chef' champ, Ground Zero hero is first double lung transplant recipient at Mount Sinai Health System

Winning Sous Chef received milestone surgery due to 9/11 related lung disease, hospital said

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The first double lung transplant at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City was recently performed on Iron Chef America winner James Kelly. Kelly appeared during season four of the popular food show where he helped his brother, Chef Peter Kelly, claim victory over culinary king Bobby Flay.  Kelly is thankful to be part of another victorious team – Mount Sinai’s new lung transplant team who helped the New York health system reach a major milestone.  

The surgery occurred this past March, and Kelly, who is a 58-year-old professional chef from Whitestone, New York, told Fox News, "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 was diagnosed with emphysema and lung disease due to a condition called silicosis. According to Kelly and his physician, Kelly’s lung disease was related to exposure at the World Trade Center when he volunteered to hand out meals at Ground Zero to first responders the days following the 9/11 attacks. 

A view of Mount Sinai hospital as Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew hospitalized in New York, on Nov. 3, 2021. Kelly is thankful to be part of another victorious team – Mount Sinai’s new lung transplant team who helped the New York health system reach a major milestone.  

A view of Mount Sinai hospital as Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew hospitalized in New York, on Nov. 3, 2021. Kelly is thankful to be part of another victorious team – Mount Sinai’s new lung transplant team who helped the New York health system reach a major milestone.   (Betul Yuruk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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

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In 2004, Kelly told Fox News he had chest lymph nodes biopsied that revealed exposure to metals he attributed to dust surrounding him at Ground Zero. Kelly was hospitalized multiple times with lung infections and on May 4th, 2019, he was told he needed a double lung transplant. That is when Kelly searched and found Dr. Scott Scheinin, MD, FACS, and Dr Harish Seethamraju, MD. 

In an interview recorded just before his surgery at Mount Sinai that was given to Fox News Kelly described how he waited for the phone to ring, hoping for a lung donor. That call came this past winter.  

"We went to bed and at 1 o’clock in the morning the phone rang," Kelly recalled during the interview and added, "My wife said that’s the call. I said I’m ready let’s go."  

Scheinin, who is the Director of Lung Transplantation at Mount Sinai Health System said in an interview, provided to Fox News that Kelly had emphysema with "an element of silicosis, which is an inflammatory response in the lung usually to dust particles and things like that, so it fits with the exposure that he had with 9/11."  

Scheinin, who is the Director of Lung Transplantation at Mount Sinai Health System said in an interview, provided to Fox News that Kelly had emphysema with "an element of silicosis, which is an inflammatory response in the lung usually to dust particles and things like that, so it fits with the exposure that he had with 9/11." 

Scheinin, who is the Director of Lung Transplantation at Mount Sinai Health System said in an interview, provided to Fox News that Kelly had emphysema with "an element of silicosis, which is an inflammatory response in the lung usually to dust particles and things like that, so it fits with the exposure that he had with 9/11."  (iStock )

Scheinin helped launch Mount Sinai’s new Lung Failure and Transplant Program and led the surgical team involved in Kelly’s surgery that included transplant pulmonologist, Dr Harish Seethamraju. Since the milestone March surgery, the team has done over a half dozen double lung transplants, a hospital spokesperson told Fox News.  

Scheinin has not only performed over a thousand lung transplants but is also one of only a few surgeons in the world dedicated to performing lung transplants without blood transfusions which health experts say can foster a quicker recovery and reduce the chance of lung injury, infection, heart attack and stroke after surgery. He said in the interview that performing Mount Sinai’s first double lung transplant and helping spearhead  the  hospital’s new lung transplant program is a new era for the health system.  

 "Our whole team is ready and we’ve been excited and we’re just happy to get going", he said in the interview. 

Scheinin has not only performed over a thousand lung transplants but is also one of only a few surgeons in the world dedicated to performing lung transplants without blood transfusions which health experts say can foster a quicker recovery and reduce the chance of lung injury, infection, heart attack and stroke after surgery. He said in the interview that performing Mount Sinai’s first double lung transplant and helping spearhead  the  hospital’s new lung transplant program is a new era for the health system.  

Scheinin has not only performed over a thousand lung transplants but is also one of only a few surgeons in the world dedicated to performing lung transplants without blood transfusions which health experts say can foster a quicker recovery and reduce the chance of lung injury, infection, heart attack and stroke after surgery. He said in the interview that performing Mount Sinai’s first double lung transplant and helping spearhead  the  hospital’s new lung transplant program is a new era for the health system.   (iStock)

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Kelly is excited for his new lease on life and said in an interview with Fox News that he "It’s been a long wait." Kelly was full of gratitude for the support he received from his family, the doctors, and staff

"It’s humbling, humbling, humbling," Kelly said in the pre-surgical interview obtained by Fox News. "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", Kelly said in that interview.  

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As the Iron Chef winner continues to recover, he told Fox News that he is grateful in the past three months to watch his son receive his second black belt, taught his son how to drive, saw him off to his senior prom and next week will watch his son graduate from high school.  

The chef who graciously thanked his Mount Sinai team said he also planned to do benefits again, and said in the presurgical interview, "It gives you a good feeling. I guess like organ donation it gives you one last good feeling even if you don’t know who’s going to receive it, so I can assure you, it’s a beautiful thing."