Paolo Macchiarini left a trail of devastation in the lives of every patient he encountered. Driven by greed and a relentless need for self-achievement, he callously exploited vulnerable victims who were unaware of his deceitful practices. Amid this tragedy, Paloma Cabeza found herself ensnared by Macchiarini’s web of manipulation. However, her story stands as a testament to resilience and survival, as she managed to escape the clutches of the wicked doctor and it has been told in Peacock’s ‘Dr. Death: Cutthroat Conman.’ Her journey serves as a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance and ethical conduct in the medical profession, highlighting the need for safeguards to protect patients from unscrupulous practitioners.
Who is Paloma Cabeza?
Paloma, born in Madrid, Spain, in 1975, faced a life-altering incident at the age of 10 when she was involved in an accident with a caustic substance. In the mid-1980s, tracheal injuries posed significant challenges as there were limited methods and effective treatments available. Unfortunately, Paloma’s initial 2-centimeter injury deteriorated over time, eventually encompassing her entire trachea. In 1992, she underwent a procedure to implant a silicone prosthesis to address the extensive damage. The nature of her condition required the prosthesis to be replaced every 3-6 months to prevent bacterial growth.
However, the frequent manipulations and interference in the area led to infections, and the natural regeneration of tracheal mucus was compromised. Shortly thereafter, Paloma faced additional complications as her left bronchus became a source of instability, necessitating the use of a stable V-shaped prosthesis. Although this did not significantly impact her quality of life as long as she avoided strenuous exercise, in 2006, Paloma, weary of recurrent infections, sought the advice of a specialist who provided an incorrect diagnosis.
Believing that her left bronchus was the source of her troubles, she opted for surgery to address the issue and enable her to pursue motherhood without interference. However, the procedure led to the destruction of her cartilaginous structure, resulting in the need for a full-length silicone bronchial prosthesis to manage the challenges of her respiratory condition. In 2008, Paloma, eager to explore groundbreaking tracheal transplant options, learned about Paolo Macchiarini and swiftly arranged a meeting with him.
Despite the urgency, she secured an appointment promptly and had an in-person consultation with Macchiarini in June 2008. During this meeting, Macchiarini informed her that a comprehensive examination would require surgery at the Barcelona Hospital. Paloma, determined to preserve the stability of her condition, explicitly requested him not to move or remove her prosthesis, to which he verbally consented. However, during the surgery, Macchiarini not only disregarded her wishes but also conducted a biopsy without her consent and performed a laser examination that resulted in burn injuries.
Unbeknownst to Paloma, Macchiarini was setting the stage for a tracheal implant. In the waiting room of the Madrid hospital, Paloma encountered Claudia del Castillo, the first patient on whom Macchiarini had performed a tracheal transplant. The two formed a connection and stayed in touch, eventually becoming friends. Approximately three months after Paloma’s initial surgery, she was grappling with the aftermath of burn injuries from the laser procedure and growing suspicious of Macchiarini’s practices.
Claudia, at the same time, revealed disturbing information, stating that Macchiarini was manipulating medical records and that her health was deteriorating. Concerned and betrayed, Paloma confronted Macchiarini, who vehemently denied Claudia’s claims, labeled her a liar, and refused to acknowledge any decline in Claudia’s health. Macchiarini turned hostile toward Paloma, threatening to ensure she would not receive specialized tracheal care anywhere in the country, a move that could potentially lead to her death.
Where is Paloma Cabeza Now?
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Paloma sought a discharge from the hospital. Upon discovering that Macchiarini had ceased working there, she reached out to another doctor at the hospital, Dr. Gimferrer, for insights. To her dismay, Paloma learned that Macchiarini had not faced exposure for his unethical practices; instead, the hospital had merely requested him to cease working there. Shockingly, she also discovered that Macchiarini had wrongly diagnosed her with tracheal cancer and falsified her medical reports.
In 2013, Paloma took a significant step towards her recovery by removing the Dumon bronchial prosthesis and began receiving specialized monitoring and care from experts in the city of Valencia, setting her on a path of tracheal recovery. She was able to retain her left bronchus and lung. By 2016, Paloma had made a triumphant return to Alicante and experienced the joy of becoming a mother, welcoming a son named Mario, whom she considers the miracle of her life.
The following year, in 2018, she was contacted by Leonid Schneider, who shared with her the documentary created by Benita Alexander, exposing the full extent of Macchiarini’s misdeeds. Inspired to speak out, Paloma courageously shared her story, including Claudia’s, and sought to have Claudia testify under oath. Now 48 years old, Paloma is gradually healing from the psychological scars inflicted by Macchiarini, having successfully rebuilt her life in Alicante.