Yesim Cetir was Paolo Macchiarinis fifth patient to get at plastic trachea. Foto: Staffan Larsson/SVT/Montage

In english: Still in hospital three years after surgery nightmare

Uppdrag granskning ·

Yesim's surgery was supposed to give her life back – but the transplanted plastic trachea is not functioning. Now, her father has been going back and forth in the hallways of the Karolinska hospital in Stockholm for three years.

At the intensive care unit at the Karolinska hospital in Stockholm lays 25 year old Yesim Cetir from Turkey. She had a surgery here almost three years ago and was supposed to leave the unit after one week. But she is still here and is not allowed to leave the hospital.

– I lay here and then I go out into the hallway. That’s it. All I want to do is to leave this place, she says to Uppdrag granskning.

Yesim Cetir was a university student in Turkey and had one year left on her teacher training. She suffered from hand sweat and was going to be treated for this in a hospital in Istanbul. During the treatment her trachea was badly damaged by the doctors. After that, Yesim needed a new trachea and it was going to be star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini who was going to give her her life back with the help of a synthetic trachea.

A brand new and groundbreaking method

Paolo Macchiarini methods consisted of replacing the patient’s damaged trachea with an artificial plastic trachea that had been treated with the patient’s own stem cells. The idea is that the modified stem cells will grow into the plastic, which in turn will develop into a new, living and functioning trachea.

Macchiarini performed this surgery for the first time in June 2011, in the same hospital as Yesim is in today. The patient was the Ethiopian cancer patient Andemariam Beyene. Afterwards the surgery was described as successful and Macchiarini with his team used it to publish an article in the highly esteemed medical journal The Lancet. According to the article this new method was evidently working.

Colleagues became suspicious

But what was written in the article did not correspond to what was found in the patients’ medical records. Four of Macchiarini’s colleagues became suspicious and started reviewing the actual results. They, on their hand, could not find a single patient tissue sample that verified what Macchiarini had written in the Lancet article – which was that after five months the trachea was partially covered by almost healthy cell tissue.

At this point the Karolinska hospital called the external professor Bengt Gerdin, from the university of Uppsala, to review the results of Macchiarini’s four colleagues. He, as well, found that Macchiarini had written false and feigned results about the surgeries in several of his medical articles.

– Thus, Macchiarini was guilty of dishonesty since the results shown to the scientific world was not what was actually found in the patients’ medical records, said professor Gerdin. 

What is most alarming is that Macchiarini has systematically reported false and embellished results in his medical essays and articles. Uppdrag granskning know of eight people that have received Macchiarini’s synthetic trachea, of which at least four are dead today. The first patient, Andemariam Beyene, passed away two and an half years after his surgery.

Critical condition

Yesim Cetir was the fifth patient in the world to receive a plastic trachea by Paolo Macchiarini. But the implant was not functioning. Yesim was forced to undergo yet another transplant, only to find out that the second trachea was not functioning either. Since then, she has remained in intensive care. Her condition is still critical. The synthetic trachea is not growing attached and it has taken nearly one hundred surgeries to support the cell tissue around the air pipes. Her breathing is bad, and to avoid suffocation, her respiratory tract must be cleansed from mucus every fourth hour. She has now been laying in the hospital for nearly 1000 days.

Reporter: How do you spend your days, what can you do?

– Movies and everything surrounding culture has no meaning to me. I just want to be well and go home, she says.

Since it was Turkish doctors who caused the original damages to Yesim’s trachea, it is the Turkish state that has to pay for her health care charges. In the beginning of 2015 the price for her health care had reached 60 million SEK.

Father always by her side

Back home in Turkey, her mother and siblings are waiting for Yesim to get a new transplant appointment in the US. This time she will receive a donated, real trachea. Her father, Hayrullah Cetir, is in Sweden, at the Karolinska hospital.

– The most important thing is that she can breathe, that she has air. Despite everything that has happened and the time it has taken, there are still problems with air leakage. That’s what’s worrying us, he says.

Ever since Paolo Macchiarini did surgery on Yesim, her father has been waiting for her to get well. Since she arrived to Karolinska, he has been next to her all the time. But he is disheartened.

– If you’re living in the same room and moving in the same hallways for years… You probably understand how difficult it is. We don’t have high hopes. But it’s not completely hopeless. We’re sad that we haven’t reached the results we were hoping for, despite all these years that have passed, the father says.

Paolo Macchiarini says to Uppdrag granskning that he does not want to answer any questions since the case about him is not yet closed. But he has earlier claimed that the accusations against him are baseless.

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