Setting up child life services in India: introduction to Manipal

Jeanine Clapsaddle is a Child Life specialist from Children’s who is in India for two months to help set up Child Life services at Manipal Hospital.

There to fulfill the dying wish of a former Children’s patient who wanted other kids around the world to get the same care she received, Jeanine is documenting her experiences through this blog series.

Here is the first report from her trip:


After my first days at Manipal Hospital, I feel hard pressed to capture all that I have experienced in a way that does justice to the people I’ve met and the unmistakable presence of hope that lives here.

Much like Children’s, Manipal is in a perpetual state of renovation and construction. Some areas we toured are quite archaic by our standards; multiple patient beds in the same room (children and adults together), metal beds with peeling paint, IV bags that run on gravity rather than with any sort of pump, dented metal bowls used as bedpans for children, parents sleeping on the floor next to their child’s bed, dim and sporadic lighting, etc.

I discovered that the inpatient units of the hospital are separated not by diagnosis or specialty, but rather by an individual or family’s ability to pay for the healthcare. This unit is for people who cannot afford better healthcare. The most luxurious rooms in the hospital are utilized by celebrities, dignitaries or people from other countries who can afford to pursue healthcare wherever they choose.

The more technical areas of the facility such as radiology are quite modern and similar to what one would find in the US. In some ways it is difficult to grasp the extremes between these two settings and simply chalk it up to the renovation process.

I have met many children and their families as well. Regardless of where they are, every family has nothing but praise for their healthcare experiences, and the hospital itself. Families travel by plane and train from all over India and in some cases Asia to receive care here. The bulk of their pediatric Hematology/Oncology service is made up of children with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) or Thalassemia. They have had some children with other cancers but they are considered uncommon.

I have been able to talk with many parents and in some cases their children about their experiences in the hospital. Their first response is consistently about how much their healthcare has improved since the introduction of the Play Therapy/Child Life services. Their commentary seems to stem from a place of true gratitude and excitement for the possibilities that come with my time here.

In one case, I talked with a father of a child with Thalassemia for over an hour about the need for more toys and how he could help with that project.  The two women who are currently providing play therapy services have enough toys, primarily puzzles and games, to fill one average double door kitchen cabinet – no play-doh, no video games or Barbies, no beads for necklaces, no toys with lights and sounds or other toys that at one time seemed commonplace to me, but now seem like a bit of an indulgence.  What a challenge to take a game that a child has played over and over again, and make it a new and different experience for them.

I have also seen the unpleasant side of life in India – the extreme poverty, homeless animals eating garbage for food, and filth beyond understanding. I’m not sure what the Indian equivalent of yin and yang is, but it is a palpable experience here.

I find myself tired at the end of the day from the simple mental dexterity that comes with being here and sorting through all the information coming my way – whether it is trying to piece together what someone is saying to me, even in English, as the accent is heavy here or trying to make sense of the cultural context in which things are happening. Despite the, at times, heart-wrenching realities of life here, I look forward to each day with hopeful anticipation.

Jeanine Clapsaddle
Child Life Specialist
Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

One thought on “Setting up child life services in India: introduction to Manipal

  1. Richie

    Jeanine Clapsaddle i am very happy for what you are doing for the welfare of children’s,
    I am happy to see carlet and sunitha next to yo who are helping to bring smile on children’s face

    Thanks and Regards

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