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Doctor diagnoses man with help from TV's 'House'

Emmy Nominations Snubs Surprises

LONDON (AP) - 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 U.S. television medical drama, "House."

"After five minutes, I knew what was wrong," said Schaefer, who works at the Center 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 after an eight-year run.

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 a case report published online Friday in the journal, Lancet. The patient wasn't identified.

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

He said doctors should be aware of possible cobalt poisoning in patients with metal hip replacements.

While Schaefer said he is sometimes referred to as the German Dr. House, he isn't sure the nickname is a compliment. The television doctor was known as much for his rude, abrasive manner as for his expertise in diagnosing rare ailments.

"I would have fired this guy after the first three episodes," Schaefer said. Still, he said the fictional doctor's appalling bedside manner was ultimately outweighed by his unparalleled diagnostic skills.

"It's important to be nice, but you don't get patients healthy just by being nice."
Doctor Credits Life-Saving Diagnosis To 'House' Episode

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classicconnusa February 11 2014 at 12:29 PM

I don't think they can bring it back. I saw Hugh on a talk-show - they apparently fixed his leg - he walks normally now so I think he is cured and no longer wants to limp around the hospital.

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endmill44 February 07 2014 at 1:41 PM

I liked that show too,, bring it back.

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endmill44 February 07 2014 at 1:41 PM

Thats why i loved doctor house,, he could cure anyone in one hour..

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STARRATT'S AOL February 07 2014 at 1:37 PM

Eight years is a long stint for 'Dr. House' but selfishly I wish the show would
return to television. Watched all episodes and now watch reruns.
The cast in this show was outstanding, and of course Hugh Laurie is a fantastic
talented actor.

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cd_anders February 07 2014 at 12:52 PM

House was a great show. Still watch re-runs. Great that this real life doc was able to help his patient with "House's Help". Cool.

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shaybird February 07 2014 at 12:40 PM

House was a great show! Miss it.

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rdamania February 07 2014 at 10:45 AM

If you liked Dr. House , you must see Doc. Martin on pbs, public broadcasting service , every doctor must see , fundamentals of medicine clinical, is more important than TESTS

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juliana February 09 2014 at 11:01 PM

I've seen Doc Martin. It's heart warming. Did they name those Doc Martin shoes after him ?

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Veronica February 07 2014 at 10:01 AM

I suffer from what many refer to as "Dr. House's favorite diagnosis", Sarcoidosis. Every time something horrible happened to a patient, from heart failure to coughing a piece of lung, a possible diagnosis was Sarcoidosis. Not a fun disease, but Dr. House gave us a voice. Great show. I'll miss it.

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Julie February 07 2014 at 10:20 AM

My sister has sarcoidosis also and I remember he was also saying a lot the diagnosis could be sarcoidosis. I think there was only 1 show with that diagnosis although it was mentioned many times. Good luck with your diagnosis, hope it is under control.

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classicconnusa February 07 2014 at 9:34 AM

After spending a number of years in medical research and equipment design, I've realized that so many doctors of late - rely on the equipment too much, and not as much on the analysis of symptoms and investigative insight. That's what I liked about "House" - he relied on the medical equipment as supportive only, but used his head and analytical finesse to achieve his results. It was well written and I applaud this doctor in this article in that he is pushing to make his Med-Students think outside the box. There is a need to insure that medical professionals maintain their analytical abilities as well as know the time-base parameters of an EKG. I recenty saw a headline on AOL (I think) discussing the demise of the stethoscope. How counter-productive that would be!

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foghornpwf February 07 2014 at 8:40 AM

House was an interesting show and I miss it. House's ridiculous personality made me laugh and/or roll my eyes and, since the cases were based on real-life illnesses, it helped me understand how difficult dianosis can be. It's great the show helped a practicing MD solve a case.

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