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MEDICINE

‘House’ TV episode gives German doctor cure for mystery illness

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 5:52am
 

If you're unlucky enough to be stricken with a rare medical condition, you'd better hope your doctor watches the right television show.

That was the lesson for one German man with severe heart failure and a puzzling mix of symptoms including fever, blindness, deafness and enlarged lymph nodes, which stumped doctors for months.

The 55-year-old man was diagnosed only when he was referred to Dr Juergen Schaefer, a fan of the American television medical drama House.

"After five minutes, I knew what was wrong," said Schaefer, who works at the Centre for Undiagnosed Diseases in Marburg, north of Frankfurt.

He said the man's symptoms matched up almost perfectly with a patient on an episode in which the fictional Dr Gregory House, played by British actor Hugh Laurie, identified cobalt poisoning as the cause. The series ended in 2012.

Schaefer regularly uses the television series to teach medical students. When he saw the patient with heart failure in May 2012, he had recently prepared a lecture on the show's cobalt poisoning case, where House's future mother-in-law falls ill after receiving a faulty metal hip.

Though the German patient's previous doctors thought he needed a heart transplant, Schaefer and colleagues immediately tested his cobalt levels after he complained his problems started after his last operation to replace a broken ceramic hip.

Schaefer said some small fragments of the ceramic hip remained and were grinding into the metal replacement, which leaked cobalt and chromium into the patient's bloodstream. Once the hip was replaced, the patient's heart got better and his other symptoms improved.

Schaefer and colleagues wrote about their experience in medical journal, The Lancet.

"We would have diagnosed this even without Dr House," Schaefer said. "You could have also typed his symptoms into Google and gotten a diagnosis."

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