Where is Paolo Macchiarini, the disgraced subject of Netflix documentary Bad Surgeon?

A string of patient deaths, false reports and lies brought down the man once lauded as a visionary medical pioneer

Left, patient Chris Lyles, who died after being operated on by Paolo Macchiarini; right, the surgeon was later found to have been negligent in four deaths. Photo: Netflix
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Netflix is putting disgraced Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini back in the spotlight.

The once-celebrated darling of the medical world is revisited in the documentary Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife.

Despite his pioneering work in trachea surgery, he was later found to have been negligent in four deaths. Further patients died following his experimental surgery, including two-year-old South Korean-Canadian Hannah Warren, who died three months after her transplant.

The three-part series follows the true crime podcast Dr Death. Its third season Miracle Man delved into how the surgeon used his looks and charm to get to the top of his profession. He was later exposed in a Vanity Fair article in January 2016 as a serial fabulist and “the extreme form of a con man".

Who is Paolo Macchiarini?

Italian national Macchiarini grew up in Basel, Switzerland, and earned his medical degree. He later specialised in surgery at the University of Pisa.

He went on to obtain a master's in organ and tissue transplantation in 1994 and a doctorate in 1997 from the University of Franche-Comte in France.

During his career, he worked at hospitals in Hanover, Barcelona and London.

In 2010, he was appointed a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The following year, he performed what was seen as landmark surgery by carrying out the first transplant of a synthetic, lab-grown trachea seeded with the patient’s stem cells.

Between 2011 and 2014, he performed eight of these experimental transplants, with seven of the patients dying post-operation.

'I’ve never witnessed a fraud like this'

In 2014, he was accused by four former colleagues in Stockholm of having falsified his research claims. Following an investigation, Macchiarini was found to have committed research misconduct and misrepresented the result of some of his operations.

Papers he had written in medical publications, including The Lancet, which had previously defended his work, were retracted.

That same year, a two-hour Dateline special, which was filled with praise for Macchiarini and his work, was aired on US television and nominated for an Emmy.

It was later revealed in Vanity Fair that NBC News producer Benita Alexander, who worked on the show, had an affair with Macchiarini not knowing he had been married since 1986 and had two children.

According to Alexander, Macchiarini told her that Vladimir Putin, Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Russell Crowe and Elton John would be attending their wedding, which would be held at the Vatican and officiated by Pope Francis.

“I’ve never in my experience witnessed a fraud like this, with this level of international flair,” private investigator Frank Murphy, who was hired by Alexander, told Vanity Fair. “The fact that he could keep all the details straight and compartmentalise these different lives and lies is really amazing.”

In 2016, a three-part Swedish investigative documentary showed the surgeon continuing to perform operations despite his technique demonstrating little or no benefits, while extolling the health of his patients as they died.

Where is Paolo Macchiarini?

In June 2016, Swedish police opened an investigation into whether Macchiarini committed involuntary manslaughter.

The results were announced in October 2017, concluding that Macchiarini had been negligent in four of the five cases they had investigated. However, they could not prove that a crime had been committed because the patients might still have died if they had undergone other treatments.

Sentenced to 16 months in prison in 2019 by an Italian court, he was charged with abuse of office and forging documents, but was acquitted of all charges by the Supreme Court.

However, last year, Macchiarini was tried for causing bodily harm to three patients who received experimental transplants between 2011 and 2014 with Mikael Bjork, director of public prosecution in Sweden, saying the victims were left with “serious physical injuries and great suffering".

Macchiarini was convicted of causing bodily harm, but not assault and was given a suspended sentence in June last year.

This was later increased to two years and six months in prison in June this year after he was found guilty of gross assault against three of his patients by an appeals court in Stockholm.

Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife is streaming now on Netflix

Updated: December 05, 2023, 6:12 AM