Dr. Death season 2, a Peacock original drama series, has brought to light a critical medico-legal scam committed by thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. Paolo treated several patients with severe tracheal damage and replaced their damaged windpipes with a synthetic-seeded artificial trachea, which had caused even further damage to the patients. In this eight-episode series, the portrayal of these patients by Paolo Macchiarini is based on real-life people who eventually failed to make it out alive. A terminal cancer patient named Christopher Lyle, a Russian dancer named Yulika Tulik, and a little kid named Hannah Warren all became guinea pigs in Paolo’s experiment with the stem cell trachea that eventually killed them all. Let’s discuss more about these patients, who have been portrayed in the series.
Keziah Shorten had been suffering from adenoid cystic carcinoma and had had a cadaveric trachea transplant initially. After that, she had another trachea transplant, which was a plastic trachea transplant. However, in reality, Macchiarini denied his involvement in the surgery, but in the series, we saw Keziah become one of the first patients whom Paolo had operated on. Keziah couldn’t survive because of the plastic rotting inside her throat.
Christopher Lyles was an American citizen who had also been suffering from throat cancer and was admitted to the Karolinska Institute. Paolo Macchiarini successfully transplanted a plastic trachea into his throat, but following the surgery, Christopher’s condition worsened. As depicted in the series, Christopher was an outgoing person who had immense love for his daughter. In the series, the makers took creative liberty by portraying a friendship between Christopher and the doctor on call, Nathan Gamelli, who was strictly against Paolo Macchiarini and artificial stem cell trachea transplantation. Christopher and Nathan shared some profound bonding that added depth to both of these characters. However, eventually, Christopher died because of the same reason: the rotting plastic inside his system. Christopher’s death deeply traumatized Nathan, who believed himself to be a failure as a doctor since he couldn’t do anything to stop Macchiarini from operating on his patients.
Yulika Tulik, a Russian dancer who had suffered a major accident, causing her severe tracheal damage, put immense trust in Paolo Macchiarini and his plastic tracheal transplantation. In real life as well, Yulika was manipulated by Paolo, who aimed to experiment with his plastic tracheas on her. Eventually, Yulika faced her tragic fate and died a painful death, just as depicted in the series. However, the series added a fictional connection between Yulika and Dr. Ana Lasbrey, the former partner of Paolo Macchiarini, during his surgeries. When Ana finally realized that these tracheas were the only reason Paolo’s patients were dying, she tried to warn Yulika, asking her to take some time before going for this surgery, but Yulika, who was getting desperate to get back to her normal life, finally fell into the trap and gave her consent to Macchiarini to perform the surgery. The eventual result was Yulika’s tragic death, only two years after the transplantation.
Hannah Warren was a little girl with an absence of trachea since her birth. Just as depicted in the series, Paolo operated on Hannah and made a surgical transplant of the plastic trachea, which eventually killed the child. However, being one of the first recipients of stem cell tracheas, Hannah’s parents didn’t take their child’s death as a tragedy; rather, they believed Hannah’s death would bring the medical invention into a new form, prompting the doctors to work on the synthetic trachea and improve it more to make it useful for human beings. However, little did they know that Paolo Macchiarini was a mere fraudster who was only fooling them with false hopes of survival.
Yesim Cetir was a Turkish patient who suffered tracheal damage and had her plastic trachea transplanted by the Paolo Macchiarini Karolinska Institute. She was admitted to KI during her post-op treatment and had undergone several surgeries after suffering from multiple organ failures. Not only that, but she had also suffered from hair thinning and eyeball displacement, while her plastic trachea was also getting rotten down inside her throat. In the series, Yesim and Nathan’s friendship was not based on any real-life situation but was a fictional liberty taken by the makers of the show. Nathan, who used to get easily attached to his patients and began to get emotionally connected with them, wanted the best for Yesim and hoped for her quick recovery. Eventually, Yesim was transferred from KI to a hospital in the US, but her tragic death devastated Nathan Gamelli, who had formed a close bond with her during her stay in the hospital.
Andemariam Beyene became one of the initial guinea pigs in the experimental surgeries done by Paolo Macchiarini. Andemariam had been suffering from mucoepidermoid carcinoma, which probably motivated Paolo to perform this dangerous surgery on him because he knew that Andemariam would eventually die and no one would point a finger at his surgical methods. Andemariam’s wife was severely skeptical of this procedure, but Paolo managed to convince them, giving them hope for a life-changing experience. After Andemariam gave his consent for the surgery and finally got his trachea replaced with the synthetic seeded stem cell, his health began to deteriorate, which was clearly visible in his appearance. Andemariam eventually died after his life-and-death battle with the plastic, killing him inside. Andemariam’s death devastated Ana, who began to question if the tracheas were really made of stem cells.
Paolo Macchiarini initially got away with these deaths because most of them were terminal patients who would eventually die with or without a plastic trachea, but Yesim Cetir or Yulika Tulik were completely healthy patients who died only because of the plastic inside their bodies. Paolo pleaded guilty to causing bodily harm to Yesim Cetir, receiving a prison sentence of more than two years. Now, almost every patient Paolo had operated on failed to survive, except for one, who managed to recover from his condition only after his plastic trachea was removed.