Dr. House to the rescue: ‘House’ episode helps real-life doctor diagnose rare condition

By Alexandra Burlacu | Feb 08, 2014 09:07 AM EST

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Did you ever think that TV might save your life? In this case, a man with a rare condition was diagnosed thanks to an episode of TV Show "House."

If you thought that TV was bad, you may be right, but not entirely. For a patient, the fictional Dr. House proved to be quite some help in figuring out his condition. Here's how it goes:

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A patient in Germany baffled his doctors when displaying a weird combination of severe symptoms including heart failure, vision and hearing loss, enlarged lymph nodes, and acid reflux. To help elucidate this strange condition, the patient's original doctors called in Dr. Juergen Schaefer, who works at the Center for Undiagnosed Diseases just outside Frankfurt, solving medical mysteries. As it turns out, Dr. Schaefer is a fan of the popular TV Show "House," and this actually came in handy.

Schaefer had recently held a lecture about an episode of the show, in which the sarcastic Dr. House deals with a fictional patient exhibiting the same symptoms the real patient had. In the episode, the fictional patient had a hip replacement that didn't go as it should have, and was suffering from cobalt poisoning as a consequence.

"After five minutes, I knew what was wrong," Schaefer told the Associated Press, praising the TV show's well-researched script.

The real patient had also received a metal-on-plastic hip implant back in 2010, which replaced the broken ceramic one he had. The ceramic hip was not completely removed, however, and fragments of it were grinding against the new metal hip. This caused cobalt to leak into his bloodstream, and his condition got serious by 2012. Just like in the "House" episode, it was a case of cobalt poisoning.

The Lancet reported on the case this week and Schaefer and his medical team at the German Marburg University Clinic said they referred the patient back to his orthopedic clinic for a new ceramic hip.

After being properly diagnosed, the patient's condition has ameliorated. His heart function has improved, his acid reflux and fevers have disappeared, but his sight and hearing recovered only slightly.

This is not to say that anyone who has watched "House M.D." is all of a sudden a doctor and can accurately diagnose rare conditions. Dr. Schaefer is a real doctor dealing with medical mysteries in real life, the fictional Dr. House just lent a hand thanks to a well-researched script.



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House M.D., Cobalt Poisoning, Medical Mysteries

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