A Child Life Center brings the outside world in to chronically ill children and their parents who cannot leave the hospital. The Center provides daily activities for young patients, including art and craft projects, board games, and friendly video-game competitions. The Center also brings library materials, music and videos to the children and parents, from the hospital collection and the local community library.

The Child Life Center invites local musicians, entertainers, corporations and celebrities to visit the children, providing much-needed relief from the endless medical routine of the families.

My personal journey with cancer began on Aug 13,2021 when my beautiful 4-year old daughter, Priyanka, ill with a mild fever, leg pain and mouth sores, called for me. I went upstairs, to her bedroom, only to have her faint in my arms. Her swollen lymph nodes scared me and I began to think the worst. I took Priyanka to the pediatrician's office and embarked on a long and painful course of treatment.

With hemoglobin of 2.4 and a white cell count of 9,000, Priyanka was diagnosed with A.L.L. (Acute Lymphoblast Leukemia). This type of childhood leukemia is commonly diagnosed in children who are 4-years old. On the positive side, Priyanka's doctors discovered that she had no Philadelphia chromosome, meaning that she would have less chance of recurrence. Additionally, her spinal fluid was free of any cancer cells. Priyanka's leukemia looked like a textbook case for standard treatment and long-term remission.

The initial cancer treatment was for 26 months, with hospital stays that lasted from overnight to weeks on end. Minneapolis Children's Hospital became our second home, or as I liked to called it, our "condo in the city." At first Priyanka was scared, but soon her hospital routine became easier, due in large measure to the wonderful staff of the hospital's Child Life Center.

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. She was so excited to travel, and with 2 suitcases full of stuffed toys and games, we embarked on our journey across the globe.

Shortly after we arrived in India, I set out to visit one of the largest cancer-treatment hospitals in Mumbai. With my 2 suitcases of American toys, I was unsure what to expect. Thrilled with myself, I entered the hospital and as I tried to maneuver my way through the narrow hallways, filled with despondent faces, sickness and a sense of morbidity, I was shocked. Immediately, my gratitude for American medical treatment overwhelmed me, and I started to feel a sense of purpose.

As I entered the pediatric oncology ward, I saw even more hopelessness; the children were terrified and their families were racked with despair. One parent told me that the sunset was something to look forward to each day. As I attempted to hand out the toys, the kids clenched the arms of their parents. Their trust in strangers was low and they were clearly not accustomed to accepting gifts. I gradually cajoled some of the children to accept the fluffy animals. Other children turned away, crying.

The Cancer Hospital, like most hospitals in India, provides good medical treatment. The work load is immense and demanding; there is no time or resources to offer emotional support to the patients and their families. It quickly dawned on me that they lacked what I took for granted in Minnesota. The hospital did not have a Child Life 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. These families needed a reason to wake up each day.

With this in mind, Priyanka and I decided that we would start a Child Life Center, in India, once she grew up. Priyanka will never have the chance to see our dream come true; she died during a bone marrow transplant on August 25th, 2003.

I would like to give the kids of India a gift from a child in Minnesota who had the foresight to see and understand what the vast medical system of India lacked: a happy place for sick kids and their families, a place to LIVE, a place where kids with cancer can go to bed excited about what fun tomorrow will be.

From my daughters heart,
Leela Priyanka Rao