TV's Dr. House helps solve a real medical mystery

11:18 AM, Feb 7, 2014   |    comments
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We knew the fictional Dr. Gregory House of Princeton, N.J., was good at solving medical mysteries. But it turns out he was so good he managed to solve a real one, in Germany, right around the time his Fox TV show went off the air.

A team of German doctors report today in the medical journal Lancet that they used clues remembered from an episode of House to figure out what was wrong with a man who had severe heart failure.

The unidentified 55-year-old patient had symptoms including fever, swollen lymph nodes, hearing loss and vision loss when he showed up in May 2012 at the Center for Undiagnosed Diseases in Marburg. He also had a metal hip implant, which had been put in as a replacement for a broken ceramic hip implant in 2010.

Luckily, his doctors were not only House fans but actually had used a relevant episode of the drama to train medical students. As the doctors note in their case report, it was episode 11 of season 7. According the entertainment website IMDb, that one is entitled Family Practice and features Candice Bergen playing the mother of House's love interest, Dr. Lisa Cuddy.

In the episode, it turns out that Bergen's character - who is suffering from all sorts of mysterious symptoms, including a fever and heart trouble - has been poisoned with cobalt from her metal hip implant.

And that was the problem with the German patient. "We suspected cobalt intoxication as the most likely reason," because of the episode, the doctors write. They then found fragments of that metal near one hip and high levels in the patient's blood. They deduced that the man's new metal hip had been damaged by fragments of his old ceramic hip.

Of course, real life is not TV. The man "stablilized and recovered slightly" after a getting new ceramic hip but did not regain much of his hearing or sight, the doctors report.

In an interview with the Associated Press, one of the doctors, Juergen Schaefer, also plays down the idea that they never would have solved the case without House.

"You could have also typed his symptoms into Google and gotten the diagnosis," he says.

House, which starred British actor Hugh Laurie, went off the air in May 2012 after eight seasons.

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