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Jocelyn Irene Dickhoff

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons/hanspoldoja
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The 7-year-old girl whose rare cancer led to a precedent-setting malpractice ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court has died after fighting the disease since infancy, according to the family's attorney.

Jocelyn Irene Dickhoff was just 2 weeks old when her parents noticed a suspicious lump and took her to a doctor, who they alleged told them to keep an eye on the lump but not to worry because it may be just a cyst. But when she was 13 months old, a specialist diagnosed her with a muscular cancer.

Jocelyn died Saturday at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, according to lawyer Kay Nord Hunt.

Jocelyn rarely complained about her cancer treatments or the pain, except maybe when the migraine headaches got severe, her mother told the Star Tribune.

"She was a spunky little girl," her mom said. "She was very witty and had a comment for just about everything."

But cancer — and its side effects — took its toll.

"Just a month ago, I was brushing her hair in the morning and it kept falling out," her mother said. "I said, 'Jocelyn, I'm sorry. I don't know why this is happening now.' And Jocelyn said, 'I am on chemo.'? I said, 'Of course. Silly me.'?"

Kayla and Joseph Dickhoff sued Dr. Rachel Tolefsrud and the Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar in 2009, claiming their negligence reduced Jocelyn's odds of recovery because the cancer should have been diagnosed earlier. The two sides dispute how often the lump was discussed during Jocelyn's first year.

The state Supreme Court recently ruled that state law allows a patient to seek damages if a doctor's negligence causes that patient's chances of recovery or survival to be reduced — a significant shift from the way Minnesota had previously looked at malpractice claims.

Until the ruling, Minnesota was one of 10 states that did not have a "loss of chance" doctrine, Nord Hunt said. Now, she said, the state is in line with many other states.

Dissenting justices in the 3-2 ruling warned that the decision overrules longstanding precedent and would unfairly hold doctors liable for harm that may never materialize.

A funeral for Jocelyn will be held Friday morning at the BBE High School gymnasium in Belgrade, with visitation hours Thursday evening and prior to the service on Friday.

Along with her parents, Jocelyn is survived by her brothers, Reid and Liam, and her sister, Harper.


Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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