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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there