Death brings change in Dickhoff case

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A spirited, friendly, courageous, outgoing and loving young girl who has battled cancer her entire life passed away on Saturday at the age of seven.

Jocelyn Dickhoff, an incoming second grader at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa elementary, died at 3:05 a.m. on Saturday at Rice Hospice Care in Willmar.

Jocelyn, who was born with a cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, was at home at the start of this summer and looking forward to time off from school to be with her three siblings, including newborn sister Harper. She had just fought off a major relapse with cancer from last fall and appeared to be in the clear for the time being.

That changed on the eve of her seventh birthday, June 11, when she was brought to the hospital due to a very high fever. She was hospitalized until June 24, when she was transferred to Rice Hospice care.

Her family posted this message to Jocelyn’s CaringBridge website on Saturday: “At about 3:05 this morning our sweet Jocelyn went to be with Jesus. She is now at peace, free from cancer and everything that came with it.”

Jocelyn’s grandmother, Judy Dickhoff, who works at B-B-E elementary during the school year, shared this message, “She is now cancer free and singing with the angels. We are broken hearted and words cannot express how we feel. She will be forever missed, but our memories will always make us smile. Thank you for your prayers.”

Jocelyn’s parents, Joe 

and Kayla Dickhoff, filed a lawsuit against Dr. Rachel Tollefsrud and Family Practice Center in Willmar for waiting nearly a year before referring Jocelyn to a cancer specialist to study a small bump on her tailbone.

Following Jocelyn’s one-year checkup, Dr. Tollefsrud referred Jocelyn to a pediatric oncologist at the University of Minnesota, who diagnosed her with RMS, a cancer of the connective tissues also known as alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

After the initial lawsuit was dismissed by a trial court, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on May 31 on appeal that the case could proceed to trial on the claims that Dr. Tollefsrud and Family Practice Medical Center of Willmar, P.A., were negligent in failing to make a timely diagnosis when Jocelyn’s tumor was first brought to the doctor’s attention by Kayla.

Dickhoff family attorney Phillip Cole reported that the lawsuit will press on as a wrongful death case instead of a lawsuit of chance. The question will be whether any delay in Jocelyn’s diagnosis contributed to her death.

In a July 9 article in the Star Tribune, an attorney representing Dr. Tollefsrud and Family Practice Medical Center said now is a time to set aside the legal battle and mourn for the family.

“It’s a tragedy. It’s always been a tragedy, the fact that she was stricken with cancer,” said attorney William Hart.

In the Star Tribune article, Kayla expressed Jocelyn’s desire to end radiation treatments when the last round of cancer struck her in June.

“I don’t want to do it anymore,” she told her parents.

Sheila Jaeger, Jocelyn’s first grade teacher at B-B-E who also would have been her second-grade teacher beginning this fall, got to know her quite well during the school year, as both were “recess buddies.”

“Jocelyn couldn’t go outside in the winter for recess due to the cold and her weakened immune system. So she spent that time and also some of her phy ed time with me,” said Jaeger.

“Every day was a joy to be with her. I’ll always remember how she really loved watching Scooby-Doo. That cartoon always made her laugh, which was just precious.”

When Jocelyn was sent to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital in June after spiking a fever on June 11, Jaeger visited her on a day that things looked bleak and her family wondered if she was down to her final hours.

“She was having a lot of trouble breathing. It was so tough to see her like that, but she kept fighting. She gave everyone a couple more weeks to be with her.”

Brad Goodwin, Jocelyn’s physical education teacher at B-B-E, remembers her strong personality and how he carefully pushed her at certain activities as a kindergartner.

She started strong as a first grader, but by winter-time she could no longer participate in all the activities of phy. ed. class.

“I talked quite a bit about it with her parents and her teacher (Linda Hieserich) about how much physical activity she could handle in kindergarten. Jocelyn really liked some things in phy. ed. and some others not so much, but she really enjoyed being around her friends and classmates even while she was battling cancer at the same time,” said Goodwin.

“Jocelyn was a kid that had everything to complain about, yet she never complained about what she was going through. It’s truly amazing when you think about how she carried herself and added her unique and special personality to her class and her school. We will all miss her.”



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