Being a whistleblower is an arduous journey fraught with challenges, often involving personal and professional risks. And Kalle Grinnemo found himself thrust into this difficult role as one of the first individuals to shed light on the malpractices of Paolo Macchiarini, a doctor celebrated for pioneering synthetic windpipe replacement using patients’ stem cells. As the latter’s methods faced scrutiny, he emerged as a crucial figure attempting to halt the controversial surgeon’s unethical practices. In Netflix’s ‘Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife,’ Grinnemo courageously shares his side of the story, detailing the moments when his suspicions arose and the challenging path he navigated to expose the truth.
Kalle Grinnemo was One of the First to See Macchiarini’s Deceit
In 2010, Kalle Grinnemo, a surgeon at the esteemed Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found himself working alongside Macchiarini. Recounting their initial interactions in the documentary, he described the renowned surgeon as charming, soft-spoken, yet capable of commanding everyone’s attention. The Karolinska Institute, eager to secure a Nobel Prize, actually viewed Macchiarini as the potential laureate who could bring them this coveted honor. So, he managed to perform three tracheal implant surgeries while at the establishment, each observed by Grinnemo. However, upon witnessing the deterioration condition of his last patient, doubts about his practices began to take root in the former’s mind.
Grinnemo highlighted a distinction in the patients operated on by Macchiarini. While the first two were cancer patients facing life-threatening conditions, the third patient was a young teacher trainee from Turkey without a similarly dire prognosis. The operation was to improve her life, yet complications arose swiftly after the implantation. The woman endured significant challenges, including an extended hospital stay of four and a half years, the necessity of another transplant, and various complications that plunged her into a painful and dependent existence after which she passed away. Grinnemo emphasized that Macchiarini displayed a lack of concern for his patient’s post-surgery well-being, evading their calls and unjustly placing blame on him and the rest of the medical team.
In pursuit of the truth, Grinnemo, along with two other colleagues, examined video footage of one of Macchiarini’s patients, only to discover a disconcerting reality — no stem cells had developed in the plastic airways implanted by the surgeon. Confronted with this revelation, Macchiarini responded with anger and avoided directly addressing the questions raised. Grinnemo and his colleagues thus delved deeper into his practices, only to uncover a web of deceit that included falsified biopsy results, fraudulent claims on his CV, and a significant oversight in his synthetic implant research — he had skipped the crucial step of testing on animals, effectively treating human beings as unwitting guinea pigs — along with much more.
Where is Kalle Grinnemo Now?
Kalle Grinnemo and his colleagues faced significant challenges when they presented their findings to the Karolinska Institute. The allegations against Macchiarini were summarily dismissed at first, and they found themselves facing police questioning over an alleged data breach. Even the Vice-Chancellor staunchly denied the rumors circulating about Macchiarini, instead accusing Grinnemo and his colleagues of falsehoods. Describing his feelings at the time, he said, “It felt hopeless and I felt very lonely. I felt there was no way out and I should end everything. It was pretty dark.” It wasn’t until 2016, with the release of a documentary exposing Macchiarini’s unethical practices, that the Institute’s board was compelled to resign, and legal proceedings against the doctor were initiated.
In the aftermath of Macchiarini’s exposure, Grinnemo has been vocal about holding not only the former accountable but also the board members who facilitated his presence at the Institute. In other words, he advocates for a comprehensive examination of the decisions made to retain Macchiarini, asserting that the safety of patients in Sweden is at stake, and individuals in the health department should face legal consequences. Nevertheless, despite the challenges, he has continued to contribute to the field of cardiothoracic surgery for the betterment of others.
In 2016, Grinnemo took on the role of a consultant in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Akademiska Sjukhuset. Subsequently, in 2019, he assumed the position of a professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Uppsala University. Currently, he practices as a surgeon at Karolinska University Hospital and resides in Greater Stockholm. Reflecting on legislative changes, when Sweden proposed amendments in 2021 to safeguard whistleblowers, he acknowledged the positive shift, emphasizing that while the changes may not be entirely effective, they contribute to a crucial discourse and shed light on pertinent issues.