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A Piece of My Mind
April 14, 2010

Letter to a Father in Jail

JAMA. 2010;303(14):1347-1348. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.385

I took my seat on the witness stand. I recognized him immediately, but he appeared older than I remembered. He was seated next to the defense lawyer, just 20 feet from me. His eyes expressed sorrow and fear. They were the eyes of a remorseful murderer. He was charged with the murder of his 4-month-old boy, Isaac. This was my first experience as an expert witness.

“Dr Mokalla, when caring for your patients, how important is it to obtain an accurate history?” the state prosecutor inquired. To me, the answer seemed obvious. We train medical students that 95% of the diagnostic care we provide is yielded by obtaining a thorough and accurate history. Nothing compares to the value of what and how a parent describes his or her child's illness.