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Trial is underway in Dickhoff malpractice lawsuit; 7-year-old child died of cancer

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WILLMAR — The medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a Belgrade family whose 7-year-old child died of cancer last summer is underway in Kandiyohi County District Court.

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The civil jury trial filed by Joseph and Kayla Dickhoff on behalf of their daughter, Jocelyn, against Dr. Rachel Tollefsrud and Family Practice Medical Clinic in Willmar began Monday and continues next week before District Judge Donald Spilseth.

The Dickhoffs filed the suit in 2009, contending that Tollefsud, then practicing medicine under her maiden name of Green, failed to diagnose Jocelyn with a rare form of cancer when she was an infant and allege that the girl could have been cured of the cancer if she had been diagnosed on a timely basis. The parents claimed they showed the doctor a suspicious lump on the girl’s buttocks shortly after she was born in 2006, but that the doctor told them to keep an eye on it and not to worry.

According to the case documents, the lump wasn’t documented in the girl’s medical files until she was a year old and she was soon diagnosed by other doctors with cancer. Jocelyn died July 6, 2013, according to her obituary.

During cross-examination Wednesday by Dickhoff’s attorney Phillip Cole, Tollefsrud said Jocelyn Dickhoff was the first child she had treated who had cancer and that her case made her more aware of lumps, but that she met the standard of medical care for the child.

The doctor said she was distraught when Kayla Dickhoff confronted her about the girl’s condition, which was documented in notes included as evidence in the case.

“I was distraught because if any patient has cancer, I am concerned,” the doctor said, clarifying that she wished she could have acted sooner, but that she didn’t do anything wrong.

The case is also of interest for its legal implications, as the State Supreme Court ruled in May 2013 that state law does allow a patient or family to seek damages if a doctor’s negligence causes a reduction in the person’s chances of recovery or survival.

Gretchen Schlosser

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Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

(320) 214-4373
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