Student, 19, exposed for faking cancer after TikTokers noticed she was misusing medical kit
An Iowa teenager has been charged with allegedly conning $37,000 in donations from kindhearted strangers after claiming she had been diagnosed with stage 2 cancer.
Madison Marie Russo, 19, was exposed after medical experts on TikTok pointed that she had connected cords and tubes on an IV pole incorrectly in videos claiming to show her chemo treatment.
In a series of posts to social media accounts and a GoFundme page, Ms Russo claimed she had been diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer, leukemia and had a “football-sized” tumour that had wrapped around her spine.
She faces up to 10 years in prison after being charged with felony first-degree theft over the alleged cancer fundraising scam by police in Eldridge city last week, KWQC reported.
When police raided her apartment in nearby Bettendorf, they seized a fake wig, an IV pole with a feeding pump filled with cotton balls, medical supplies in a relative’s name, and cash, court records show.
Police said that 439 donors including colleges, cancer foundations, private individuals and business had contributed to a GoFundme account called Maddie’s Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer set up by Ms Russo.
GoFundme has promised to repay the more than $37,000 donated to the page.
The Quad-City Times reported that photos posted to Ms Russo’s social media that claimed to show her receiving chemotherapy treatment had been taken from an account belonging to another cancer patient.
The photographs were found to have been taken in her apartment, rather than a medical office as she had claimed, the paper said, citing a police affidavit.
Police checked medical records at three area hospitals where Ms Russo had claimed to have been treated, but none could find any record of her cancer diagnosis, the police affidavit stated.
Ms Russo spoke about her “cancer journey” to The North Scott Free Press in October 2018.
She told the news site that she had received the bad news from an oncologist in February that year while sitting in an accounting class at St Ambrose University.
“They told me they had found a mass on my pancreas, and that I had Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. I was terrified, and I definitely still am. I was in shock. I didn’t think it could be true. I’m so young, and I wondered how this could happen,” she told the Free Press.
Ms Russo said she was given an 11 per cent survival rate. She said she went through 15 rounds of oral chemotherapy, and 90 rounds of radiation over the next few months and that the tumor was shrinking.
“Of course, every day can’t be sunshine and rainbows, but you can’t just choose to be mad at the cancer. It just happens to people. If you stay depressed, and in a dark space, I feel like your body will never get better,” she claimed.
All the while, she managed to achieve good grades, secure her “dream internship” at John Deere, continue to play golf and keep up a busy social life, police noted.
Ms Russo has been released from Scott County Jail on a $10,000 cash bond, and is due to appear for arraignment on 2 March.