You might already know my name. Since I first told my story publicly in a 2016 Vanity Fair article, it has been featured in more interviews and podcasts than I can count and is the subject of several big TV specials, including “He Lied About Everything” on Investigation Discovery, “True Lies” on ABC’s 20/20 and most recently, “Bad Surgeon” on Netflix.


It is an absolutely insane story about a revolutionary surgeon who managed to pull the wool over the eyes of some of the world’s most esteemed institutions, doctors and scientists. His pathological lies carried over to every aspect of his life, including his personal, which is how I got ensnared in his twisted web of deception. I thought I was marrying him but eight weeks before our big day, everything began to unravel and after a few months of investigation, I discovered that he was actually juggling four different families at the same time. Our wedding was nothing but a sick fantasy that existed only in his head, not one thing about it was real. By far the most sickening and heartbreaking part of it all however is that he lied to his patients and literally used them as human guinea pigs. People died because of him and ultimately, he would be found guilty of aggravated assault. Dr. Paolo Macchiarini is a criminal and one of the most cunning, manipulative liars you will ever hear about.


I have been telling my story for eight years now and people sometimes ask why I don’t stop. Part of the reason is that until he was finally given a criminal sentence last year in Sweden, there had been no justice. Macchiarini transplanted an artificial windpipe, made in the lab out of plastic, then bathed in the patient’s own stem cells, into eight patients around the world. Seven of them died and the only one who remains alive had the artificial trachea taken out before it was too late. These plastic windpipes were supposed to magically integrate into the patient’s bodies after they were transplanted, with the stem cells basically turning the plastic tube into a living organ. It was a daring, pioneering and risky procedure, but one he said had been successfully tested in pigs. He was backed by, and employed at, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the place that awards the Nobel prize in medicine. He was even rumored to be in contention for a Nobel prize himself. His nickname was “the super surgeon” and people around the world were in awe of him, clamoring to work with him, fund his research, write papers with him and become part of something that ostensibly, would change the future of medicine. But it was all built on lies. Dr. Macchiarini bypassed every single preliminary step you are required to take prior to performing an experimental procedure, he lied about the results in scientific papers and bragged at press conferences that his groundbreaking method was working beautifully when in reality, people were dying awful deaths because his plastic windpipes were rotting in their throats and suffocating them. People who came to him because they believed he was their only hope, their only chance of a normal life, were used and duped in the most horrific way imaginable. And yet until last year, he was still walking around as if he had done nothing wrong, believing he is invincible. So for the sake of his patients and their families, I felt obligated to keep exposing his lies.


The other reason I keep talking is that there are valuable lessons everyone can learn from my story. I am still contacted on a daily basis by women (some men too) who thank me for being brave enough to tell my story in such raw, candid terms, telling me that I have helped them feel less alone and less stupid. I was taken aback when I first realized how prevalent sociopathic con artists are, not just in romantic situations but in business as well. These manipulative narcissists work and live amongst us and they are frighteningly adept at disguising their cunning lies. So, here are a few things to keep your eye out for.



Con artists have what I like to call a ‘vulnerability radar.’ Like an animal sniffing out its prey, they can tell when someone is vulnerable and therefore may have their defenses down. When I met Dr. Paolo Macchirini in 2013, my ex-husband and the father of our 9-year-old daughter, was tragically dying of an aggressive form of brain cancer. I had been a network TV producer at NBC for 15 years at that point and I was still holding it together at work, but inside, I was crumbling. I was devastated by the impact I knew this would have on my daughter’s life and it felt like I was blindly stumbling my way through treacherous emotional territory with no guide map. It’s so simple, but when we are going through something and we feel vulnerable, what we need more than anything is for someone to wrap their arms around us and tell us that somehow, everything will ultimately be okay. Dr. Macchiarini was that person for me. When I first met him while we were doing a story about his work, we became friends and I would sit with him over coffee or dinner after shoots, pouring my heart out to him about my fears and concerns. What struck me at the time was what a good listener he was and how incredibly caring and attentive he seemed to be. Essentially, he presented as exactly the opposite of who he actually is and I now realize that he wasn’t really listening to me because he cared, he was listening because he was stockpiling information to manipulate me and use against me. So, the lesson here is that if you are vulnerable, for whatever reason –  maybe there’s been a death in your family, you lost a job, you’re going through a divorce or difficult break up, anything that throws you off your game a bit – you need to be hyper vigilant about protecting yourself. You should consult friends and people you trust before making any major decisions in your life, or at work. You should be particularly careful about allowing new people into your life, in any capacity.



This one is very prevalent in online dating scams but I experienced it as well, and it can also happen in a business environment. Something is due to happen – a date, a meeting, a major payment – and at the last possible minute, the person calls it off with some elaborate excuse. It’s almost the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” excuse but they step it up to the uber dramatic, claiming someone died, someone has been in a terrible car accident, they broke a leg, the house burned down, whatever. The drama is intentionally designed to manipulate you and make you feel guilty for questioning them. What kind of person would you be if you were not sympathetic, understanding and compassionate in that situation?  If you whine and complain about missing the date or meeting, then you basically look like a jerk. Now, if it happens once, then obviously it is most likely legitimate, that is just the reality of life, things like this do happen sometimes. But if someone is hitting you with over the top excuses on a constant basis, beware.



Pathological liars are extremely cunning and manipulative. I believe most of them are narcissists and many are sociopaths. Sociopaths have a personality disorder that is characterized by a lack of conscience and complete disregard for other people. They act impulsively and they have no empathy, remorse, or guilt. They are also highly skilled actors, so they know how they are “supposed” to behave in a love relationship, or in an important business exchange, but their feelings and actions are not genuine. They always have a selfish, ulterior motive, they see you as a means to an end and no matter how convincing they are, they are using you only to get what they want. This also means that they are well prepared if you become suspicious. If you start questioning or doubting them, they will come back at you rapid fire, with articulate, carefully planned and seemingly plausible answers. They often get defensive and angry, expressing shock and disappointment that you would ever doubt them in the first place. And then they deploy gaslighting tactics to further muddy the waters. This is what I like to call “the fog.” They are such adept liars, so adamant that you are the one who is wrong for questioning them, that you begin to doubt yourself instead of doubting them. You think maybe they’re right, maybe you are the one who is wrong.They are intentionally sowing seeds of doubt to make you question your memory or perception of reality. And when you are already entangled with someone, whether it’s someone you are in a romantic relationship with, or someone you are entrenched in a business transaction with, it can be next to impossible to realize that you are tangled in the fog. Usually by the time you do realize it, the manipulative con artist is already well on the way to getting what they want. 


So, if you ever find yourself feeling like someone is putting you in a foggy, murky state of mind, run for the hills, it is a giant red flag of master manipulation.


Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions below!

Benita Alexander
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