Junior doctor Thiru was a real shining star

Thirushika Sathialingam, a junior doctor at the QEQM who died in a drowning accident. She is pictured in a restaurant, smiling at the camera.

Published on 21 September

Tributes have been paid to a junior doctor described as a shining star who lit up the room.

Thirushika Sathialingam, known as Thiru to her friends, worked at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. She had joined the team at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 26 year old died in a drowning accident in the town last Saturday, 11 September.

Her father Sathialingam, who retired from his position as consultant anaesthetist at the QEQM in July, said: “Every parent thinks their child is special but she truly was, and it is only now that I am realising how much good advice she gave me and how wise she was.

“She always had time to listen to people, and enjoyed looking after her patients. During the second wave of Covid she was on a respiratory ward with people who had the virus and she would sit and talk to them, holding their hands to give them comfort.

“She was not afraid to double-check things with consultants if she felt something was not right and she was passionate about her work.”

Thiru was born in Sri Lanka and spent much of her childhood in Ilford, before moving to Kent with her family in 2011.

Thiru attended Sir Roger Manwood’s School and studied medicine at Riga Stradins University in Latvia, where she met her boyfriend Peter Speilbichler. The couple were together for six years.

After graduating, Thiru and Peter spent some time travelling before the coronavirus pandemic hit and she moved back to Kent to start working at the QEQM, where her brother Kaushaliyan is also a junior doctor. Her ambition was to follow in her father’s footsteps as an anaesthetist, or study interventional radiology.

Kaushaliyan said: “I don’t think many siblings were as close as we were. We did almost everything together.

“She was a fantastic doctor. I don’t think she realised how good she was, but it came naturally to her. She was able to think outside the box to get things done for her patients, and she loved that medicine was such a complex subject.

“She was interested in anaesthetics because she enjoyed the scientific approach to it. She wanted to be able to do procedures that would make a real difference to people.”

Thiru was also a talented dancer, performing classical Indian dances at charity events and helping to teach others. She loved to travel, and would meticulously plan her trips with Peter, whether to Sri Lanka, his family in Germany, or exploring the United Kingdom.

Peter said: “I have had calls from my friends’ parents who only met her once or twice, saying how amazing she was and how she lit up the room and made everyone welcome.

“If there was someone who was not part of a group, she would make sure she spoke to them and that they were included and felt comfortable.

“She could get on with everyone and she was always kind and smiling. I never heard anything malicious come out of her mouth, even if she was angry.

“The time we spent together was amazing and I loved everything about her.”

East Kent Hospitals’ chief executive Susan Acott said Thiru’s death was a huge loss to the Trust.

She said: “Thiru was a real shining star who had quickly made her mark with her caring nature and her passion for her patients.

“It is clear she would have had a bright future ahead of her and I have no doubt she had the potential to achieve anything she set her heart on.

“Our thoughts are with her family and her many friends and colleagues.”

Dr Prathibha Bandipalyam, director of medical education, added: “Thiru was an excellent doctor and a major source of support to her colleagues, particularly the new junior doctors who joined us in August.

“Her talent was obvious and she was dedicated to her work and to the people she cared for.

“She will be sorely missed by all of us, particularly her colleagues at the QEQM, and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family.” 

Dr Omar Marzouk, who worked with Thiru on Fordwich ward, said: “Thiru was truly unique and one of the most special people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know.

“She was most wonderful friend that you could possibly ask for. Thiru was extremely kind, caring and selfless. She had the most wonderful sense of humour and she brightened up the room wherever she went. She was a real star in so many ways.”

Thiru’s funeral will be held at Margate Crematorium at 2.30pm on Wednesday, 22 September. Her family have asked for donations to charity in lieu of flowers, via Gore Brothers Funeral Directors, 56-60 Thanet Road, Margate, CT9 1UB. Donations will be split between Hele Sarana, a Sri Lankan charity based in the UK supporting orphaned children that Thirushika had previously danced for, and homelessness charity Porchlight.