How a World-Renowned Surgeon Faked His Way into a Relationship with a News Producer Covering Him

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was believed to be well on his way to a Nobel prize for his pioneering work in the buzzy field of regenerative medicine. He now faces jail time and his reputation has been ruined after he was revealed to be a con.

Before the spectacular fall from grace, award-winning producer Benita Alexander was tasked with profiling Macchiarini for an NBC News documentary and she broke one of the cardinal rules of journalism: don’t fall in love with your sources. 

Alexander believes she was targeted by Macchiarini because he likely knew his carefully crafted global image was about to go up in flames. In the first installment of ‘Fraud Week’ on The Megyn Kelly Show, Alexander joined Megyn to discuss the ways Macchiarini wormed his way into her life and what others can learn from it.

The Backstory

Back in 2013, Alexander was tapped as lead producer on an NBC News special about Macchiarini’s breakthrough transplant surgery involving synthetic windpipes seeded with stem cells from the patients’ own bone marrow. 

The documentary, hosted by NBC’s Meredith Vieira, ended up being called A Leap of Faith and introduced the hardened news producer to the suave Italian surgeon. “We were actually looking at doing a documentary about regenerative medicine, which is this very promising, exciting field… [and] when we started looking into it, Paolo Macchiarini’s name kept coming up,” Alexander recalled. “He was… at the forefront of this groundbreaking, revolutionary field and his nickname was ‘super surgeon.'”

At the time, Macchiarini was working at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Sweden that awards the Nobel Prize in medicine, and Alexander said there was no shortage of accolades or press that pointed to him being the real deal. “He kind of had this reputation like he walked on water and people were clamoring to work with him,” she said. “There was just a lot of excitement surrounding this man.”

Behind the scenes, however, things were not what they seemed. “Whistleblowers were starting to figure out that something was wrong,” she noted. “Patients were dying, however, at the time, he was still sticking by what he said and has continued to say… that whenever you do an experimental procedure, patients do die.”

While Alexander acknowledges that is true, she said Macchiarini was cutting corners. “What he wasn’t telling the world and what nobody knew yet was that he had not done one single one of the preliminary steps that you’re supposed to do before doing an experimental procedure on humans,” she said. “He had literally skipped everything.”

Their Relationship

None of this was known while Alexander was working on the NBC News piece, and, off camera, she found herself falling prey to Macchiarini’s charms. “He is one of those people that has that quality that, when he walks into a room, he turns heads. He’s got that commanding presence; he’s very arrogant, very confident, very self-assured; he speaks five or six different languages,” she explained. “On top of that, he is doing something that literally nobody else in the world was doing.”

While their relationship started as a friendship, it turned romantic against Alexander’s better judgment. “We just started talking a lot over a coffee, or dinner after a shoot, or long plane rides,” she said. “At the time, I was at a very vulnerable place in my life. I would not realize how vulnerable until much later on or how susceptible that made me.”

As Alexander shared, she met Macchiarini when her ex-husband, with whom she shared a daughter, was dying of brain cancer. The same “impeccable” bedside manner he exhibited with patients was what Alexander experienced. “He just seemed so genuinely caring and attentive,” she admitted. “Of course, I realize he was gathering information to use against me. But at the time, I just thought he was an incredible human being.”

The Red Flags

By Christmas 2023, Macchiarini was proposing. “The proposal was a surprise and that is, in hindsight, another red flag,” Alexander noted. “Things moved very, very quickly… One similarity he does have to other con artists is everything was on the fast track. Everything was moving at rapid fire speed.”

There was also the “love bombing” that didn’t really let up. “This man was so over the top with everything. I’d walk into a hotel room and there would be rose petals all over the floor, bouquets everywhere, champagne everywhere,” she recalled. “It was a long, slow form of love bombing because we were together almost two years and it never stopped in the two years.”

She does not believe that was a coincidence. “Everything about this, I think, was calculated, and the love bombing was designed,” Alexander said. “You feel like you’re floating and sort of on a cloud of bliss, and it’s very intentional because then you don’t look at anything else. You don’t question anything. It’s designed to sort of put you in a haze and distract you from what is really going on.”

The intensity, Alexander noted, was “not my style at all” and she said the two bickered about the “consistent, lavish, over-the-top gestures” that she found “embarrassing.” Even so, she – along with her friends and family – wrote it off as the way he showed his love for her.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, her relationship with Macchiarini fell apart after she discovered he had multiple other families and had lied about all the details of their wedding – including that it would be presided over by the pope, who he claimed was one of his patients as a clandestine concierge doctor.

As absurd as the story sounds in retrospect, Macchiarini fooled the medical community and those closest to him for a very long time. Alexander said she wishes she would have caught on so she could have done more to help his patients, but she believes he got close to her to protect himself. 

“He had to know that it was going to implode… It was just a ticking time bomb,” she concluded. “So, I think he met me and he thought, ‘Okay, here’s this successful, smart journalist. I’m going to make her fall in love with me. And when the shit hits the fan, I’m going to have her in my back pocket. She is going to protect me.’ I think that’s exactly what he was doing.”

You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Alexander by tuning in to episode 814 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.