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The TV producer whose whirlwind romance with a dashing surgeon features in the new series of blockbuster true crime podcast Dr Death said she hopes telling her story protects other women against falling victim to conmen.
Award-winning documentary-maker Benita Alexander was swept off her feet by renowned Italian doctor Paolo Macchiarini in 2013 while she was working on a story about his pioneering medical work.
She said he promised a wedding involving the Pope with a guest list including the Obamas, the Clintons and Sir Elton John.
However, all was not as it seemed and Alexander said she uncovered a web of lies about the man she was prepared to marry.
The story will be told in season three of the Dr Death podcast, titled Miracle Man due to Macchiarini carrying out the world’s first stem-cell windpipe transplant before his career was engulfed in controversy.
Alexander said she ultimately has no regrets about their love affair as it enabled her to expose a man she considers a “pathological liar and a master manipulator”.
She told the PA news agency: “I think in a weird way it was supposed to happen to me. That’s how I’ve sort of been able to make sense of this whole thing, because if it happened to somebody else, if he’d picked somebody else, they might have fallen apart under the devastation.
“They might not have had the means or the courage to stand up and talk about it and expose him. And I did. My friends always say to me, ‘in a way you were preparing for this your whole life, you’re a journalist’.
“He picked the wrong person. And there’s some poetic design to that, I think that it happened to me maybe for a reason, because I am able to speak up about it.”
Alexander, who was filming an NBC News special when she met Macchiarini, said she hopes her story will bring comfort to other women who have also been taken in by conmen.
She said: “Unfortunately, smart, intelligent women do get conned. Because we open up our hearts, and we just want to be loved, which is not a crime.”
Alexander discovered two months before the wedding Macchiarini had made no plans at all and uncovered a series of lies he had told both her and his patients.
The claim Pope Francis would officiate on the big day fell apart after a friend shared an article detailing the Vatican’s plans for the Catholic figurehead to visit South America at the time he was supposedly set to be at the wedding.
It was not only in his personal life Macchiarini was accused of lying.
He was dismissed from Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute in 2016 for allegedly breaching medical ethics.
In 2019, an Italian court sentenced him to 16 months in prison for forging documents and abuse of office.
And several of the patients who received his “regenerating” windpipes have since died.
Alexander last saw Macchiarini from afar in Barcelona in 2015 and most recently spoke to her one-time husband-to-be in 2017 when she called him demanding answers.
She said he offered a “flat, empty, meaningless apology” before hanging up.
Alexander expects the disgraced surgeon to react angrily if he listens to Dr Death.
She said: “I often wonder, when I tell the story publicly, if he reads the articles or watches the things or listened to the podcast. This one is big. It’s called Dr Death: Miracle Man. And if there’s anything he should listen to, it’s this one. I don’t know if he will or not. I imagine if he does, he’ll get very angry. And he’ll blame everybody else.”
Dr Death Season Three: Miracle Man from Wondery is available everywhere including Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and the Wondery app.