Five years ago, I would have been incredulous if you’d told me this would become the trailer for my life:
An astonishing true story of love, betrayal and unimaginable deception. When a magical romance with a world-renowned surgeon develops into a nightmare, his fiancée uncovers a path of destruction that leaves dead patients and shattered families in its wake.
But this tale of stunning lies, which also involves world leaders and high-profile VIPs, is my life. And my very personal film about the whole disturbing saga, He Lied About Everything, premieres on Investigation Discovery on Valentine’s Day.
My name is Benita Alexander and my true story of love gone terribly wrong began in 2013. I was an Emmy-winning network television producer for NBC News doing a two-hour special, A Leap of Faith, about the pioneering work of Dr. Paolo Macchiarini. He was called the “super-surgeon” and was at the forefront of an exciting field that involves growing new body parts in the lab. He was lauded by some of the world’s top scientists, doctors and institutions, he’d published in the most esteemed medical journals and he worked at the Karolinska Institute, the place that awards the Nobel Prize in medicine.
He also happened to be incredibly charming, attentive and attractive, and we soon fell madly in love. It was like a fairy tale and I was on a cloud of bliss, basking in the romance. He even charmed his way into the hearts of my family and friends, with many confessing secret envy, especially when he proposed and said he wanted to surprise me with an over-the-top wedding in the Italian countryside.
The July 11, 2015, event would be akin to the wedding of the century. Paolo had some important patients—people like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Vladimir Putin, who he said were among a group of secret VIP patients he tended to privately—and many of them were on our guest list. The most shocking guest was Pope Francis. My Italian fiancé said he’d become the pope’s private doctor after caring for Pope John Paul II in 2005. So, when we ran into trouble finding a priest who would marry two divorcees in a Catholic church, Paolo turned to his Vatican connections for help—a request that ultimately resulted in him announcing that Pope Francis had offered to marry us himself.
As ridiculous as that sounds, Paolo insisted that Francis wanted to thank him for his work at the Vatican, and also “use” us as the poster couple for moving the Catholic church out of old traditions. Since Pope Francis had expressed his desire to make the church more inclusive of gays and divorcees, the possibility wasn’t quite as absurd as it might seem.
The wedding was shrouded in the utmost secrecy. The pope marrying two divorcees would be so controversial that Paolo said the Vatican wouldn’t even announce it until the day before the nuptials. NDAs were signed, I spent $50,000 on couture dresses and luxurious invitations wrapped in lambskin leather. At Paolo’s request, I began collecting our guests’ social security and passport numbers for the secret service and Swiss guard.
Then, just six weeks before the big day, I discovered that it was all a twisted lie. I had to tell 300 people that I was canceling my dream wedding. As I emerged from my love haze—shocked, embarrassed, heartbroken, and confused—I put my investigative journalist’s hat back on. In a way, it was all I could do. I was utterly devastated by what I uncovered next.
Paolo had never divorced and never could have legally married me at all. He had other women and families. And so much was at stake: I had given up everything for him, quitting my job and pulling my daughter out of her private school so we could move to his house in Barcelona. My friends and family lost the thousands of dollars they’d spent on travel to Italy and fancy red-carpet attire. All for a bogus fantasy wedding.
But there were far worse things. As I picked myself up off the floor, my thoughts quickly turned to his patients. If he was lying to me on such an egregious level, Paolo was most likely also lying in his medical life—and that was terrifying. If people’s lives were in danger, I knew I could not allow this to be swept under the rug. I decided to tell my story, and to investigate further, because I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt.
What was ultimately revealed is horrifying. Swedish prosecutors found that Paolo never performed the animal experiments required before doing experimental surgeries on human beings. In addition, he not only lied about having the scientific evidence he needed to operate, he didn’t stop, even when his patients started dying. He literally used people as guinea pigs. I spoke to doctors and scientists who call him a “murderer,” I had heartbreaking meetings with the anguished families of his patients. No one I spoke to could fathom what drove him to lie to so many people.
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini conned some of the world’s top scientists, doctors and institutions. There was no reason to doubt this man and it was difficult for everyone to admit that this so-called super-surgeon wasn’t who he portrayed himself so convincingly to be. For me, it’s extremely uncomfortable: I’m an investigative journalist who is the last person on the planet who should have been fooled. It would have been so much easier to slink away from the humiliation and try to quietly piece my life back together. But I knew that if I didn’t say something, I would be allowing him to potentially harm others.
I’ve learned a lot from this horrendous experience, but most important is that although embarrassment makes it extremely easy to convince yourself that it’s best to hide things away and move on, some things should not be silenced. Despite the pain and humiliation this ordeal has caused me, I know that telling my story is the right thing to do. Aside from exposing the truth about Paolo, I hope that maybe my film will help people to feel empowered to stand up and share the facts if they see the truth being buried, or injustice taking place. I believe it’s time to pull back the curtain on powerful people who believe they will never get caught—people who think they are so invincible or untouchable that they can get away with hurting people and damaging lives.
Benita Alexander’s story is told in the new documentary ‘He Lied About Everything,’ airing Feb. 14 on Investigation Discovery.