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NBC Insider Dr. Death

A Timeline of Paolo Macchiarini's Relationship with Benita Alexander

Paolo Macchiarini seemed like a modern-day Prince Charming, but the romance between Macchiarini and Benita Alexander would turn out to be no fairy tale. 

By Jill Sederstrom

When it comes to boyfriends, Paolo Macchiarini appeared to be a cut above the rest.

The charismatic surgeon earned international attention after becoming the world’s first doctor to perform a synthetic organ transplant. When he wasn’t in the operating room, Paolo was whisking girlfriend Benita Alexander, a former NBC News producer, off on exotic vacations and promising her a lavish Italian wedding officiated by the Pope himself. 

But just months before the over-the-top dream wedding, Alexander learned her surgeon fiance was not the man she believed him to be.

As Macchiarini’s success as a surgeon was called into question, Alexander discovered the famed Italian had won her heart with lies and was married to another woman all along.

Season 2 of Peacock’s Dr. Death chronicles their whirlwind romance and Macchiarini’s sudden fall from grace after it was revealed that most of his patients who received artificial tracheas had died. 

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To retrace Macchiarini’s path from enviable boyfriend to ousted ex, here is a timeline of the romance between Alexander and Macchiarini: 

Benita (Mandy Moore) and Paolo (Edgar Ramirez) walk down the street together

When did Paolo Macchiarini and Benita Alexander meet? 

Alexander was working as a producer for NBC when she first crossed paths with Macchiarini in February of 2013, according to Vanity Fair.

Alexander was doing research for an upcoming two-hour special on NBC focused on the “super-surgeon,” called A Leap of Faith. 

Although veteran reporter Meredith Viera would helm the special, Alexander was tasked with producing the piece and arranged to meet with Macchiarini at Boston’s Mandarin Oriental hotel to discuss his ground-breaking medical advances. 

Macchiarini had already received international acclaim for becoming the first doctor to ever perform a synthetic organ transplant. His work focused on transplanting an artificial trachea made from plastic and coated in a patient’s own stem cells into the body. At the time he met Alexander, he was focused on achieving a new goal:  implanting a synthetic trachea for the first-time into a child, 2-year-old Hannah Warren.

“I’m not a believer in love at first sight. But the second our eyes locked, that’s what it felt like,” Alexander would later tell The New York Post of their first meeting.

When did Paolo Macchiarini and Benita Alexander’s relationship turn romantic?

While sparks may have been flying during that first meeting, journalists becoming romantically involved with their subjects is frowned upon, so Alexander focused — at least at first — solely on a burgeoning friendship with the handsome doctor. 

At the time they met, Alexander’s ex-husband and father of her 9-year-old daughter was dying of an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma and Macchiarini offered her his support. 

“He was an amazing friend to me during that time, and a solid, reliable pillar of strength,” she told Vanity Fair. “He spent hours listening to me talk about it all and offering gentle advice.” 

But by June 2013, the lines were starting to blur and Alexander said the couple spent an  “incredibly romantic weekend” together in Venice. Just two weeks later she flew to Stockholm to see him again. 

Alexander told The Post that after the romantic getaways she tried to pump the brakes on the relationship until the special was finished. 

Although they spent two months apart, in September of 2013 Macchiarini flew to New York to be by her side when she had surgery for uterine fibroids. 

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Paolo Macchiarini and Benita Alexander's Engagement

The relationship took another pivotal turn a few months later when Paolo proposed on Christmas Day 2013 and Alexander happily accepted. 

Just before New Year’s Paolo said he had to leave to perform an “emergency V.I.P. surgery” and explained that he was part of a secret group of doctors who treated some of the world’s most elite like Bill and Hillary Clinton, Emperor Akihito of Japan and President Obama, according to Vanity Fair

Paolo Macchiarini's Wedding Plans

Benita (Mandy Moore) and Paolo (Edgar Ramirez) attend a gala event

Alexander was feeling pressure at work, so Macchiarini offered to “surprise” her with a wedding in Italy and told her all she’d need to do was buy the dress. 

Throughout 2014, he let details slip about the lavish nuptials. Macchiarini  arranged for a Catholic wedding, despite their past relationships, and claimed Pope Francis had agreed to marry the couple, ABC News reported.

What’s more he said the Vatican had offered the pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo for the four-day wedding extravaganza. Macchiarini claimed he had arranged for Andrea Bocelli and John Legend to sing at their wedding ceremony on July 11, 2015.

Alexander had four dresses made for the days-long celebration and the wedding invitations were ordered with some high-powered names on the guest list including Vladimir Putin, President and Mrs. Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Benita Alexander Discovers Paolo Macchiarini’s Lies

Macchiarini’s elaborate lies would finally be exposed in May of 2015. Alexander was planning to move to Europe to live with Macchiarini and quit her job at NBC on May 13, 2015. 

The very next day, she got an email from a friend with the subject line “The Pope,” per Vanity Fair. The email included a link to an article explaining Pope Francis’ summer plans to visit South America, placing him far away from Italy on her upcoming wedding day.

“I demanded an explanation from Paolo,” Alexander told The Post. “He claimed internal politics were rife at the Vatican and the pope’s progressive plan had been ‘undermined.’ When I contacted the Italian castle where he had supposedly booked guest rooms, nobody there knew Paolo’s name.”

She canceled the wedding and hired a private investigator who would discover that Macchiarini was still married to his wife of 29 years. He also had another mistress and was living in Barcelona with her and two small children.

“I just didn’t want to put two and two together,” Alexander would tell Vanity Fair of the relationship’s demise. “I didn’t want Paolo to not be the man I believed him to be. I didn’t want the fairy tale to end.”

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See’s press office, would later insist Pope Francis never knew anyone by the name of Macchiarini or promised to officiate his wedding. Bocelli’s wife also denied that he had ever been planning to sing at the wedding.

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Did Benita Alexander see Paolo Macchiarini again? 

On what would have been her wedding weekend, Alexander, wearing a blonde wig as a disguise, and two close friends went to Macchiarini’s home in Barcelona, according to Vanity Fair.

While she waited in the car, her two friends confronted Macchiarini as a woman with two small children came out of the home. 

“He was like an embarrassed schoolboy who had been caught,” friend Leigh McKenzie told the outlet. 

Alexander just watched from the car and didn’t speak to her one-time love, but it was a definite end to the relationship.

A close-up of Dr. Paolo Macchiarini during a press conference.

Where is Benita Alexander today?

In 2018, Alexander served as the executive producer of a documentary film about the ill-fated romance titled He Lied About Everything, according to her website

Today, Alexander continues to work as a producer and also serves as the CEO of Berraca Productions, a company she created to “further her advocacy work empowering women who are the survivors of fraud.” 

Macchiarini was sentenced earlier this year to 2 years and 6 months in prison after he was found guilty of gross assault in Sweden for the deaths of three patients, according to Science Magazine.