The Priyanka Foundation began as a promise from a mother to her daughter: The two were grateful recipients of the child life services offered at Minnesota hospitals, during their difficult 4-year journey with childhood leukemia.
In August,1999, beautiful 4-year old daughter, Priyanka had developed a mild fever, leg pain and mouth sores, which was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblast Leukemia (A.L.L), a common cancer found in young children. The talented physicians and staff at Minneapolis Children’s Hospitals and Clinics were confident that this was a textbook case of A.L.L., and proceeded with a standard course of treatment, anticipating long-term remission.
The initial cancer treatment lasted 26 months, with hospital stays varying in length from overnight to several weeks. Minneapolis Children's Hospital became a second home for Priyanka and her mother, Leela Rao; a “condo in the city," as they endearingly called it. Initially, Priyanka was scared by the medical procedures, equipment and isolation. With the help of the child life services staff, her hospital routine became predictable and less frightening, allowing both the patient and her friends and family to experience reduced stress and a positive sense of wellness.
After 26 months, Priyanka completed her treatment at Minneapolis Children's Hospital and her doctors gave her clearance to take her first trip to India, the country where her mother was born and raised. Young Priyanka was so excited to travel, hauling two suitcases stuffed with toys and games that she received as a patient in Minnesota.
Once they arrived at Priyanka’s grandmother’s home in Mumbai, the mother set out to visit one of the largest cancer-treatment hospitals in India, with the intention of joyfully sharing the two suitcases of American toys. However, she was shocked as she tried to maneuver through the narrow hallways, filled with despondent faces, sickness and a sense of morbidity. Entering the pediatric oncology ward, Priyanka’s mother saw even more hopelessness; the children were terrified and their families were racked with despair. The children did not trust strangers, and clung to their parents; there were no toys or games, no current reading materials, no understanding of what might happen next. The stress was extreme. One parent expressed the mood of the whole group, saying that the sunset was something to look forward to at the end of each day.
Immediately, Leela was overwhelmed with gratitude for the child life services provided back in Minnesota, and she realized what a profound impact those services had on the sense of health and wellness experienced by the patient and family. The cancer hospital in India, like most others, provides good medical treatment, though the work load is immense and demanding. There are no resources to offer emotional support to the patients and their families. The child life services that Priyanka and her mother took for granted in American hospitals did not exist in India. The hospital in Mumbai did not have a child life services center; a place for the children to be happy, to play games, have freedom to move, to watch movies. The parents did not have access to daily newspapers or a medical library.
With this image in mind, Priyanka and her mother promised each other that they would return to India some day, with the resolve and resources, to start a child life service center for hospitalized children. Priyanka, however, never had the chance to see that promise fulfilled: her body succumbed during a bone marrow transplant, back in Minnesota, in August, 2003. Priyanka had relapsed with a secondary drug induced Leukemia on January 13th 2003.
The Priyanka Foundation aims to give a gift to hospitalized children worldwide, from a child in Minnesota, who understood the significance of the softer side of healing in the toughest times: The Priyanka Child Life Centers provide professionally-staffed experiences for sick kids and their families, in hospitals around the world, where patients can go to bed excited about what fun tomorrow will be.