LONDON, February 7, 2014—After several visits to multiple doctors, an unidentified German heart patient with an array of puzzling symptoms was resigned to having to undergo the last-ditch effort of a heart transplant. Doctors believed a transplant would be the only way for this patient to survive.
The patient’s symptoms included fever, blindness, deafness and enlarged lymph nodes. The array did not fit into any particular diagnoses.
However, an episode from the retired TV show “House” and Dr. Juergen Schaefer, a fan of the show, saved his life without a heart transplant. Dr. Schaefer had seen a particular episode where the faux patient had symptoms matching his patient’s. Within five minutes, Dr. Schaefer knew what was wrong: cobalt.
Analyzing the patient’s medical history, Dr. Schaefer discovered that the patient had once had a ceramic hip replacement. The ceramic was subsequently replaced by a metal hip, but small fragments of the broken ceramic hip remained embedded and grinded into the new metal hip. This in turn led to cobalt and chromium leaking into the patient’s bloodstream.
Dr. Schaefer recognized this issue from an episode of “House,” which uses doctors from many fields of medicine as medical consultants for plot, dialogue and script. The episodes are so well defined that Schaefer uses several in his lectures.
The greatly respected medical publication Lancet reported the story in an issue last week, but Schaefer downplays his astute connection by claiming that any doctor could Google the symptoms and have an accurate diagnosis available.
The patient avoided the rigors of a heart transplant and is slowly recovering.
Schaefer is often referred to as the “German Dr. House,” minus the hourly ingestion of Vicodin.