The second season of Peacock’s true crime drama series Dr. Death covers the shocking case of Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, a man who went from being a celebrity surgeon to absolute infamy. Netflix had recently covered the same issue in a short docuseries titled Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife, and the Peacock show basically adds more layers of fictional drama to the incidents. Macchiarini, a thoracic surgeon who became famous for trachea transplants was revealed to be an evil manipulator and obsessive liar who pushed many towards certain death. Dr. Death Season 2 is quite intriguing, especially if someone gets introduced to the case of Paolo Macchiarini through it and can be given a watch for sure.
Plot Summary: What is season 2 about?
After a very brief scene of what is about to come later on in the show, Dr. Death season 2 begins with a young woman named Keziah Shorten struggling with cancer in her native city of London. Keziah gets herself checked at the University College London, where she first meets Dr. Paolo Macchiarini. The charming and helpful doctor gives hope to Keziah, stating that despite her earlier trachea transplants having failed, there was still a chance for him to treat her back to health. At the time, Macchiarini was looking to change the method by which tracheostomies were conducted, because of their rate of failure. Since studies regarding stem cells were also on the rise, he was of the opinion that stem cells from the receiving patient could be used to make the transplanted trachea more suitable for their body.
Dr. Macchiarini conducted such a tracheostomy on Keziah Shorten, and then in 2012, he talked about his procedure during a conference at the reputed Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It is also here that he first mentions his next plan—to come up with artificial tracheas that can be laced with the patient’s stem cells and then inserted into their bodies, replacing their own damaged ones. The idea is indeed deemed revolutionary, as it would remove the long-drawn step of finding matching donors and also be the first step towards a future in which nobody would die waiting for any donors for organ transplants. Two doctors at Karolinska, Dr. Ana Lasbrey and Dr. Nathan Gamelli, also attended this lecture, with the latter being quite skeptical about Macchiarini’s promises. When the two approach the doctor after the event, though, Macchiarini seems friendly enough to answer all their questions, and he then even offers Lasbrey the chance to be a part of his surgery team.
In 2013, an American journalist by the name of Benita Alexander looked at a particular case that Dr. Paolo Macchiarini was about to partake in. He would fit in an artificial synthetic trachea inside a little girl named Hannah Warren, who was born without the windpipe and had to suffer through the many struggles of her condition. When Benita first reads about this surgery about to take place, she finds an interesting story to cover for her job as a news producer at NBC. The woman approaches Macchiarini with the plan of shooting the entire procedure, to which the doctor readily agrees. With time, Benita Alexander falls in love with Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, still not knowing that there are incredible lies behind the man’s claims and statements.
How did Paolo Macchiarini turn out to be a cheat?
Within a couple of years, Paolo Macchiarini turned out to be a horrible cheat who had lied about almost everything in his apparently accomplished life. This fall from grace first came in his personal life, shocking Benita Alexander massively. When the two first met over the NBC special story program, Benita was in a mentally distressed situation as her ex-husband, John, was suffering from cancer and had been told that he had very little time to live. Although her initiation with Paolo was entirely professional, the woman could not help but get attracted to him, especially when he gave her mental support and also showed an equal interest in her. But getting involved with professional contacts was officially against the rules, as Benita is also often reminded by her best friend and colleague, Kim. Nonetheless, the woman is swept away by Macchiarini’s loving actions, and the two eventually start a relationship that is still kept a secret from the world.
The first person to learn about the couple is Benita’s young daughter, Lizzi, who was heartbroken after her father died after some days of struggle. Lizzi is, therefore, not very welcoming to Paolo, at least during the first few meetings, but then the girl starts to like him and even accepts him as her dad. This gives Benita all the more confidence, and so when Paolo finally proposes marriage to her, she agrees. But when the doctor officially announces their engagement in front of Benita’s colleagues and friends, none of whom had any idea about this development, she is understandably irritated by him. To make things better, Paolo decides to take Benita and Lizzi to his hometown in Italy and introduce them to his parents. It is here that Benita first sees a photograph of Paolo with the Pope and is told that he is close friends with the man, as well as some other prominent people, like presidents of leading nations.
Thus, when Paolo states that their marriage will take place at a lavish hotel in the Italian countryside, with the Pope himself officiating the ceremony and numerous celebrities performing and attending, Benita does not find it too suspicious. It is rather Kim who finds the scale of this marriage difficult to believe, and a quick search into the matter reveals a very different story. At the time when the marriage was supposed to take place, the Pope was supposed to be in South America, and his trip had been scheduled months before. When Benita was told of this, she had to spend an incredibly tense few weeks as she found out more of her fiancé’s lies and realized that Paolo Macchiarini had created a totally false world around her.
As presented in Dr. Death season 2, Paolo Macchiarini seems to be a compulsive liar who just got some pleasure from making extremely outlandish claims about himself and his influences. He was not the personal doctor to important religious and political leaders, and although he did hold influence over the heads of the hospitals that he practiced in, the man was not as much of a celebrity as he claimed himself. In fact, the real Benita Alexander believes that Paolo’s faking a relationship with her was only so that he could use her reach as a journalist and make himself more famous. The man had asked Benita to leave her entire life in the United States and move with him to Barcelona, where he was living at the time, to settle in Spain along with Lizzi.
Therefore, the woman tried to find out more about him from the city and eventually found out that he was already married to a woman and had children with her as well. When Benita finally returned and confronted Paolo, the man tried to come up with more lies, but she had already had enough. By now, she had left her job at NBC, and wanting to tell her story and warn the world about the swindler Paolo Macchiarini, she approached some other journalists. While Benita wanted the report to be on Paolo’s professional malpractices, most wanted it to be on the man’s personal life and her struggles with him as a lover. Eventually, Benita’s account was published in 2016, and the report was mostly about how the famed doctor was a cheat in his personal life.
How did Gamelli, Svensson, and Lasbrey speak out against the malpractices?
On the professional side of things, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini was no less of a trickster and fraudster, for he had lied about a number of medical claims that he had made. The synthetic artificial tracheas that he was making for his patients and inserting into their throats were essentially made from plastic, which led to tremendously bad infections inside their bodies. Almost all of the patients on whom these surgeries were done died within a few months, but the doctor never discussed these failures or even let the press or the masses know about them. Dr. Nathan Gamelli, who had always been suspicious about Macchiarini’s claims, started to look into the matter with more attention when a number of patients at Karolinska died helplessly because of his surgeries.
Dr. Death puts a lot of emphasis on the three doctors who ultimately turned out to be whistleblowers, and that comes off as a commendable decision. Gamelli was someone who got quite attached to his patients, honoring the promises or even assurances that he gave them. Therefore, when patients like Christopher Lyles and Ademariam Beyene lost their lives, he was deeply disturbed by the gross malpractices being performed. Macchiarini then also operated on a young Turkish woman named Yesim Cetir, as a result of which she had to go through innumerable surgeries and other horrific side effects. By the time Yesim was taken away from Karolinska to the US, upon the advice of Dr. Gamelli, she had completely lost the will to live. All of this, as well as the effect that the matter had on Gamelli, are effectively presented in Dr. Death in a truly heartbreaking manner.
Dr. Andre Svensson, who was in charge of laboratory experiments at Karolinska, had been told to test the effectiveness of the artificial tracheas on lab rats. Although his test clearly showed that all rats were dying after the surgeries, Macchiarini lied about the test results, stating that they were positive even before the experiment was over and also later on. Dr. Ana Lasbrey worked very closely with Macchiarini, also running his personal clinic in Russia, until she realized how the doctor cared very little for his patients. This realization came when Lasbrey informed Macchiarini that all three artificial tracheas to be used on a patient were faulty, and the doctor simply decided to use a shorter trachea, which was immensely fatal.
When the three doctors finally united and investigated the matter, they came across some shocking revelations. The plastic that Macchiarini was using to make the synthetic tracheas had not received any medical certification, meaning that there was no official guarantee to ensure they were safe. The material was indeed not safe, but the doctor had lied about the certification. Moreover, his very idea to lace artificial tracheas in stem cells to replicate the real part was flawed, and while he had claimed to have cleared animal testing phases, this, too, was a blatant lie. No such tests had been conducted on animals, as per the regulations, and he was basically testing his idea directly on human subjects.
The three whistleblowers came up with a detailed report about these malpractices and made an official complaint to Karolinska. They had to face humiliation and great risk, as they were followed around and even reported to the police for having leaked confidential patient records. When the hospital board decided to face them in a tribunal, it was clear that they had not even read their report and that they would side with Macchiarini, no matter what. However, when one of the three doctors, Andre Svensson, in all probability, leaked the report online, things started to change, and the matter got some much-needed attention.
What happened to Dr. Paolo Macchiarini?
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini used false claims and spread false hope among people to get more patients, each of whom paid exorbitant amounts of money for the surgeries. He used these statistics, which recorded only the successful operations and did not take into account how the patients got more complications after surgery and eventually died, to gain more fame and patients. While the procedure initially began to be used only on people in life-threatening conditions, Macchiarini opened it up to those who wanted to make their lives better and were not necessarily in a fatally bad health condition. The hospital authorities, both in Sweden and later in Russia, supported him because of the grand amount of money he was bringing in, and his image as a miracle doctor also helped them.
When the report about his misdemeanors was leaked, and then Benita’s account was also published, the world’s attention fell on the doctor for the first time in a negative light. Karolinska handed over the investigation to a third party, more reliable than their internal board, and the hospital severed ties with Macchiarini. The Swedish police also accepted that they viewed Macchiarini as a troublemaker, but since most of his misdemeanors could not be proved, they could not file any charges against him.
During Dr. Death Season 2’s ending, Gamelli, Svensson, and Lasbrey are seen returning to their normal lives, along with Benita Alexander, while Paolo Macchiarini is still seen performing tracheostomy surgeries in some other part of the world. The show also notifies with text that the doctor was still allowed to practice even after the allegations against him. Three years after their original decision, the Swedish prosecutors finally reverted their opinion and charged Macchiarini with causing bodily harm to three patients. The man could only be proven guilty of causing bodily harm to Yesim Cetir, for which Paolo Macchiarini has been sentenced to just two years and six months in prison.