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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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petty2 February 06 2014 at 7:59 PM

It's never Lupus.

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k3ac petty2 February 07 2014 at 2:35 AM

It's ALWAYS Lupus.

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icewall42 k3ac February 07 2014 at 10:11 AM

Sometimes it's lupus.

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hflem29 February 07 2014 at 6:00 AM

I had a close friend that was a doctor. He had to watch the TV medical shows to see what his patients would be coming to him with soon after the show.

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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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1 reply
juliana rdamania 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 Veronica 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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hullblkbelt February 07 2014 at 7:19 AM

Ever pick up a medical book and take a look?? There is No way that Anyone can remember all of what is in those books or has seen every problem that presents its self. As for Reginasouthbeach suggesting getting a Butt wash to cure almost everything. I have to say in my 25+ years of working in the medical field I have never seen anybody (cured) From a Colono wash !!! You are removing beneficial Bacteria that aids in digestion and resorbation of much needed vitamins (A,D,E, & K). Wow, Did I just open up a can of worms for those who swear by this.... Think about this, If you get a ( perfed colon ) from someone is sticking a hose up your backside, washing you out, you will need emergency Surgery, you may end up with a colostomy...

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icewall42 hullblkbelt February 07 2014 at 9:37 AM

Yeah, I have a couple of veterinary manuals for dog/cat internal medicine, and holy gods... 2000+ pages of tiny print.

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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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Linda B February 07 2014 at 7:24 AM

My favorite doctor is a Rheumatologist who is abrupt, had Cerebal Palsy as a child, is very tall and reminds me of Frankenstein when you hear him walking down the hall. He referred to me a bit too "chubby," told me basically that all the things I had been diagnosed with, i.e. fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus was a crock. That I had mild arthritis in my right hand resulting from damage from a fall and a broken wrist several years ago and in my back from a childhood injury that caused compression fractures in my lumbar spine. He "strongly" that I lose weight and get off my fanny (his word) and exercise more. He also said my allergy to NSAIDs was a good thing that too many people take too many of those things when they are not really necessary and some cause more stomach problems than the benefit. He also said that he believed that research would prove they cause heart problems. (I believe recent research has proven his theory). Incidentally, I was referred to him by my cardiologist. In spite of all this, my primary care doctor said that she sends patients that she cannot diagnose to him if they complain with possible arthritic pain because he is invariably right in his diagnosis. I do not go to him because he is a big lovable teddy bear LO, but because he took me off 2 medications he said were unnecessary and has since been proven right. I have gone a few "wonderful" doctors according to other people who have simply pushed a pill at me. I usually do not particularly look forward to going to this doctor, mainly because I have not lost a lot of weight between visits; but I go back because I can rely on him to be honest and he listens to what I have to say after he has had his say. I learned that the first time I went to him and he told me to just be quiet until he told me what he had to say and then I could say anything I wanted and he meant it. I do not look for personality, I look for a doctor who knows his job and knows it well.

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icewall42 Linda B February 07 2014 at 9:02 AM

Sounds like a fabulous doctor. I have a LOT of problems, and luckily I found at least one doctor (a gastroenterologist) who also knows his stuff even if he is rather abrupt. I just still have difficulty finding another specialist who can help me locate other problems. I now know that I'm a complete mess on the inside--severe hiatal hernia I was born with, and "misshapen," too long digestive tract. Explained a lot of my issues. Just not all of them. So right now I'm also stuck with a fibromyalgia diagnosis from another doctor, but I very much suspect the issue is nerve-related. Everything else is a mess, why not the nerves? I would take a rude, abusive Dr. House for those issues any day, if that's what it takes to get an answer and a possible solution.

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cathyc13211 February 07 2014 at 7:24 AM

Those TV shows staring "House" are based on actual medical problems. It is true that a lot of "Drama" is added to them but they are actual cases. It was very informative and I too am sorry it was discontinued.

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icewall42 cathyc13211 February 07 2014 at 9:34 AM

I know what you mean, but all good stories must come to an end :(

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Terry February 07 2014 at 8:36 AM

Lots of interesting opinions here. Much depends upon where your doctor went to school and where he was trained. Also depends upon upon his character. I have had some wonderful doctors. I have had some who could care less as long as they can run tests and give you a pill to "try" and see if this works. If you have a doctor who can only spare you six minutes you are probably in trouble. And especially if you have difficult symptoms. They are not taught to connect the dots. They send you to a specialist sometimes who finds out what is wrong, or not. As you get older (people, you need to realize this is now true, unless you have had the same Doc for many, many years) it is not worth the time and money to find out what it is. The term, Practice of medicine" is true. I have had two Doctors who were trained at Mayo Clinic and they were remarkable. I asked them why. They said they were taught to listen to the patient, to learn from each other, and treat the patient with respect as you would want them to respect you. What an idea.....

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