Published: 15:52, 21 September 2021
| Updated: 17:15, 21 September 2021
A heartbroken family have paid a touching tribute to a junior doctor who drowned in Margate after a late-night swim ended in tragedy.
The body of 26-year-old Thirushika Sathialingam was discovered by coastguard crews in the town's harbour after the alarm was raised by friends in the early hours of Saturday, September 11.
It is understood Thirushika had gone into the water with colleagues, who had not noticed she was missing until they arrived back at their accomodation.
A major search was launched at 3am involving lifeboat crews, police, firefighters and a coastguard rescue helicopter.
But Thirushika's body was sadly found in the harbour by RNLI volunteers at 5.45am.
Her father Sathialingam, who retired from his position as consultant anaesthetist at the QEQM in July, paid tribute to his daughter.
"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," he said.
"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."
Known to friends as Thiru, she 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.
The Cliffsend resident's 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.
'Thiru was a real shining star who had quickly made her mark with her caring nature and her passion for her patients...'
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.
“Thiru was a real shining star who had quickly made her mark with her caring nature and her passion for her patients," she said.
“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."
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 tomorrow.
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.