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TV's Dr House helps solve real-life medical mystery

Published on Feb 7, 2014 8:33 AM
Television still from the series House. A real-life medical mystery that baffled doctors at a German clinic was solved, thanks to an episode in the TV series. -- FILE PHOTO: NBC UNIVERSAL TELEVISION

PARIS (AFP) - For a year, the patient suffered from a range of worsening symptoms that left doctors stumped. His heart started failing, his sight and hearing deteriorated, he suffered from acid reflux, swollen lymph nodes and an inexplicable fever. The outlook was grim.

Only Dr Gregory House, TV's misfit medical genius, could solve the mystery: The cause was an eroded prosthetic hip. But this time the sleuthing did not happen on the small screen but in real life, The Lancet reported on Friday.

Thanks to an episode in House, doctors at a German clinic were able to save a 55-year-old man who was in a serious and baffling decline. The patient had been referred to Marburg's Centre for Undiagnosed Diseases in May 2012.

Poring over his medical history, the team found a past that was uneventful... apart from a double hip replacement. They pounced on this detail. Recalling an episode from the seventh season of House, the team began to suspect cobalt poisoning, probably from a worn hip implant. Scans and blood tests confirmed the suspicion and the patient soon had his metal prosthesis replaced by a ceramic one.

"Shortly after the hip replacement, the patient's plasma (blood) cobalt and chromium concentrations decreased and the patient stabilised and recovered slightly," the case report said.

By July last year, 14 months after the operation, his heart function improved to 40 per cent, the fever was gone and so was the acid reflux. The patient had by then received a defibrillator to aid his damaged heart. His hearing and vision, unfortunately, recovered only slightly, said the report.

"It was helpful for me that I was aware about the cobalt problems, thanks to Dr House," team leader Juergen Schaefer told AFP, while stressing that other diagnostic tools were brought into play as well.