Paging Dr Haus: German doctor cures mystery illness after recalling a similar diagnosis from Hugh Laurie's curmudgeonly antihero House

 

Health Reporter

House, the prickly doctor-genius with an astonishingly convincing American accent, has earned Hugh Laurie fame in America and plaudits of both sides of the Atlantic. Now, despite the minor disadvantage of being a fictional character, he has also helped save a life.

In a submission to one of the world’s leading medical journals, German doctors report the case of a man who came to hospital suffering from severe heart failure. Medical examinations at the Marburg University clinic ruled out the most likely causes, coronary artery disease. The 55-year-old man also had fever of unknown origin, had gone almost deaf and blind and had an underactive thyroid.

Fortunately for him, the Marburg is unusual among teaching hospitals for offering a lecture entitled: ‘Dr House revisited – or: would we have saved the patient in Marburg as well?’ – led by Dr Juergen R. Schaefer of the hospital’s Centre for Undiagnosed Diseases.

Clinicians quickly noticed striking similarities between the man’s symptoms and those displayed by a fictional patient in an episode used in one of the lectures, which teach students to diagnose rare diseases.

“Searching for the cause combining these symptoms - and remembering an episode of the TV series House which we used for teaching medical students (series seven, episode 11) - we suspected cobalt intoxication as the most likely reason,” the doctors write in The Lancet today.

It emerged that the patient’s problems had started half a year after a hip replacement in May 2010, in which a broken ceramic-on-ceramic artificial hip was changed for a metal-on-plastic version. The metal had been worn down by ceramic particles left behind, and was now spread into the bloodstream, poisoning the man to the point that he was in a serious condition by the time he arrived at Dr Schaefer’s clinic in May 2012.

For more than a year the problem had gone undiagnosed, but it was almost identical to a case that House diagnoses in an episode called Family Practice, first shown in 2011. The patient was sent to have his hip replaced again, with a new ceramic version. He stabilised and his heart function later recovered.

“I must admit House was pretty helpful in this case,” Dr Schaefer told The Independent. “I did a seminar on cobalt intoxication and then half a year later came across this patient.”

“I have used the show for five years as a teaching tool. When it started I used it just to get the students into the lecture hall. But it worked and we had 30 to 40 students in to listen to lectures on rare and unusual diseases.”

The newspapers soon caught on, dubbing Dr Schaefer ‘the German House’. It proved a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading patients from around the country to his clinic with their mystery conditions.

“Patients who had been troubled for years with undiagnosed diseases call me up and say: ‘Well you are the German Dr House, can I get an appointment!’” he said.

The clinic has helped many patients with previously undiagnosed diseases and Dr Schaefer has won national awards for his teaching and his clinical skills – but he remains modest about the House comparisons.

“He is a troublesome character, but based on his medical skills I take it as a compliment,” he said. “It is such a great TV show, where they use true stories from case reports from the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet. So it’s only a matter of time before you will bump into a patient with the same problems.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific