In Plot Twist, TV Show 'House' Helps Doctor Solve Real-Life Medical Mystery

It's a case of life imitating art: information from the medical mastermind on the TV show House helped a German doctor solve a rare medical case. Dr. Juergen Schaefer, a fan of the American drama, says he knew what was wrong with a patient after five minutes because of a previous plot line on the show. At least all that television watching is finally good for something.

The 55-year-old patient had struggled with health issues for nearly three years and stumped medical professionals. His medical history wasn't too eventful, aside from having both hips replaced replaced by prostheses. However, he was suffering from heart failure, low thyroid hormone levels, enlarged lymph nodes, loss of hearing, and loss of vision, among other symptoms. As doctor after doctor remained uncertain of his diagnosis, the patient's condition grew worse.

Finally in 2012, the man, who remained unidentified in the report published in the medical journal The Lancelet , went to Schaefer and his colleagues at the Center for Undiagnosed Diseases in Marburg. They discovered the source of his ailments almost immediately. How? They combined his symptoms to search for the cause and remembered an old episode of the TV series House, which they use for teaching medical students. He turned out to have cobalt poisoning. Thank you, Hugh Laurie.

The specific episode, called "Family Practice" — season 7, episode 11 — features Candice Bergen playing the mother of Dr. House's love interest. Bergen has a bevy of mysterious symptoms, including heart trouble and fever, all due to cobalt poisoning from her metal hip implant. In 2010, the male patient had surgery for a broken ceramic-on-ceramic hip prosthesis. It was replaced with a metal one, causing the root of all his problems. The metal had eroded and his cobalt level was a thousand times the normal amount.

The way it plays out on House, Bergen's character recovers. In real life, it turns out things are more complicated.

German doctors said they replaced the real-life patient's hip and while he has "stabilized and recovered slightly," there still isn't much progress in his hearing and eye sight. The TV show played a role in improving the man's condition, but Schaefer tells the Associated Press that doctors should still be aware of cases like these.

"We would have diagnosed this even without Dr. House," Schaefer says. "You could have also typed his symptoms into Google and gotten the diagnosis."