Death of a nurse: 'I am devastated by the loss of my beloved wife'
As Jacintha Saldanha's husband and children await results of post-mortem, hospital's chairman sends angry letter to the Australian radio station
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday, covering Sarah Cassidy’s maternity leave. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 09 December 2012
When Jacintha Saldanha's husband made his daily phone calls home to their family in Mangalore last week, everything had seemed exactly as normal. He chatted to his mother about the usual things and there were no signs of the tragedy that was about to engulf them.
On Friday morning Mrs Saldanha, 46, was found dead after an apparent suicide and her husband, Benedict Barboza, had to make a very different phone call home.
The events that led to that moment have been all too public. Three days before she was found unconscious at staff accommodation near the King Edward VII's Hospital in central London, the hard-working nurse had been on duty early in the morning and put through a telephone call from Australian radio DJs posing as the Queen and Prince Charles. The DJs went on to obtain personal information about the Duchess of Cambridge, who was being treated there for severe morning sickness and the ensuing furore about the hospital and the radio station led news bulletins around the world.
While the world chattered about the events, a silent, personal tragedy was unfolding. Even those closest to Mrs Saldanha did not see it coming. Carmine Barboza, the nurse's mother-in-law, who lives in southern India, said her son had not mentioned the call or the controversy it had caused. "Benedict used to call every day but neither he or Jacintha said anything about what had happened. Everything seemed normal," she told the Daijiworld.com website.
The exact reasons for Mrs Saldanha's death are still little understood. A post-mortem to be held this week are likely to provide a medical explanation, but bigger questions remain over what might have caused her to take her own life.
Meanwhile, her husband, known to friends as Ben, and their two teenage children, Junal, 16, and Janice Lisha, 14, were at their home in Southmead, Bristol, yesterday, struggling to come to terms with the sudden loss of a wife and mother.
The 49-year-old hospital accountant posted on his Facebook page yesterday: "I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances. She will be laid to rest in Shirva, India."
The nurse's sister, Cerolin D'Souza, told reporters that they were still waiting to receive detailed information. "We were wondering what happened, whether she met with an accident, when she was returning home from the hospital," she said. When she spoke to her sister's husband he was overcome with emotion. "When I asked what happened, he was not able to communicate and he broke down," she said.
Originally from India, the family moved to the UK from the Mangalore region nine years ago. Mrs Saldanha worked hard, splitting her time between the family's home in Bristol and staff lodgings at the hospital in London where she worked.
Working in an age when nurses are often criticised for not caring, Mrs Saldanha was quite different. Friends described her as a "lovely, lovely person" who was so dedicated to the profession that she used to spend her days off walking a neighbour with dementia to the shops.
She qualified as a nurse at the Father Muller College of Nursing in Mangalore and registered as a nurse in Britain in 2003. She married Mr Barboza in 1993 and the couple moved to Muscat before settling in the UK.
Neighbours of Mrs Saldanha's family suggested yesterday that there may have been more pressing concerns, unknown as yet, on the mind of the nurse. Dudley Todd, 79, who lives nearby at Coldbeck Close, said: "I can't help thinking there is more to this. It just doesn't make sense when you have two children depending on you."
Neighbour Mary Atwell, 56, said: "She was a lovely, lovely person who always spoke to you when you saw her in the street. The kids were always polite and well behaved. The boy often played football on the green outside with his friends.
"She must have taken the whole thing very badly because I don't think the hospital disciplined her for what happened. She simply couldn't live with herself, I suppose. But you could always see that she was very dedicated to her job. She was a lovely person. She used to walk an elderly neighbour who has dementia, who lives a few doors along, down to the shops and back."
She answered Tuesday's call from Australia's 2Day FM DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian only because she was on night duty, and at 5.30am there was no receptionist. It was not even she who divulged the personal details about the duchess; she transferred the DJs to another nurse, who gave details of her condition.
Flowers were left outside the King Edward VII's Hospital's nurses' block yesterday. Attached to the red, white and blue flowers, a note from nurses at the hospital read: "Dear Jacintha, our thoughts are with you and your family. From all your fellow nurses, we bless your soul. God bless."
The hospital sent a strong protest letter yesterday to the owners of the radio station, condemning the prank phone call that led to her death. The letter concluded: "I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could ne Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo ver be repeated."
RCN chief executive Dr Peter Carter said in a statement: "This is tragic news, and the thoughts of all at the Royal College of Nursing go to the family of Jacintha Saldanha. It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession."
Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, said the DJs were "completely shattered" by her death. He said at a Melbourne press conference: "This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we are deeply saddened by it. I spoke to both presenters early this morning and... they are completely shattered." Since the prank, recorded and cleared by lawyers before it was aired, the station has been inundated with complaints. It has now pulled all its advertising and taken the show off air.
Many of the nurse's relatives posted messages of condolence online. Below Ben Barboza's tribute on Facebook, Jenson Alex Paid said: "Heartfelt condolences to you, Ben Uncle. May the good God grant her soul eternal peace." Suzanna Gomes wrote: "Dear Benedict uncle and family, Very sorry to hear the news. Our heartfelt condolences. May her soul rest in peace."
Hospital chairman condemns 'appalling' decision to broadcast
This the full text of the letter written by the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, Lord Glenarthur, to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of 2Day FM's parent company, Southern Cross Austereo
"I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about the hoax call made from your radio station, 2Day FM, to this hospital last Tuesday.
"King Edward VII's Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call.
"Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station's management was truly appalling.
"The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients.
"The longer-term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words.
"I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated."
Prince tells of Kate's 'all day and all night sickness'
The Duke of Cambridge last night joked that morning sickness should be renamed to reflect the fact that his wife had been suffering from it day and night. Prince William made the remark at a gala event to raise money for the homelessness charity Centrepoint, his first public engagement since the announcement that he is to become a father.
Michael O'Higgins, a former chairman of Centrepoint, said the Duke had told him the illness should be given a new name. Mr O'Higgins said: "He said they shouldn't call it morning sickness as it's a day-and-all-night sickness. All I've seen of him is his amazing ability to relate to people and I think the care he's shown for his wife this week says a lot."
William did not make reference to the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who took the hoax call from radio presenters posing as the Queen and Prince Charles. Looking smart and in a black tie, William, who is a patron of Centrepoint, went solo to the gala, as Kate is still resting after three days of hospital treatment. He told guests that some of the "most inspiring moments of my life" had been with the young people of Centrepoint.
William also referred to a night he spent on the streets in 2009 to experience what sleeping rough is like: "I was cold but safe, and I knew I had a home waiting for me. Many others have no such luck."
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