At around 6PM each evening Janice Pinto endures a familiar heartache. It was the time when her mother, nurse Jacintha Saldanah, would call her for their nightly chat.
“She would call me every day to check up,” Janice, now 20, tells WHO at her flat in Leicester, England. “To say, ‘How are you doing? How was your day? How was school?’ I sometimes imagine when I’m around my friends that she’d be calling today at six. That phone call is what I miss every day. That’s one of the hardest things.”
Life since the loss of Jacintha, in a tragedy that shocked the world, has been a despairingly difficult journey for Janice and her family, but they have now finally found reasons to smile.
Five years on from Jacintha’s suicide on Dec. 7, 2012, the tragic culmination of what became known as the “Royal hoax call,” the family are helping to fund the building of a hospital in Jacintha’s home town of Mangalore, India, which will have a ward dedicated to the popular and well-respected nurse. It is their hope that the hospital will preserve the memory of a woman who had devoted her life to others.
“From a young age she has always been about helping other people,” says Janice quietly, speaking in her first interview since her mother’s death. “I love the fact that it will be something that she would have planned to do; something she would have wanted if she had retired.”
It was that caring and trusting nature that saw Jacintha, who worked the night shift at London's prestigious King Edward VII’s Hospital, put a call through to the ward where the Duchess of Cambridge was staying in 2012. Then pregnant with Prince George, the royal was being treated for hyperemesis gravidarum (acute morning sickness) at the hospital when Australian 2Day FM hosts Mel Greig and Mike Christian posed as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles in what was meant to be a humorous prank call.
Jacintha answered the phone and, in good faith, accepted the inquiry was legitimate and put Greig through to the nurse who was looking after Kate. The unnamed nurse then proceeded to give the DJs an update on the duchess’s condition and treatment. Three days later, after the prank had been aired worldwide and Prince Charles had joked about it, Jacintha was found dead in the nurses’ quarters, a tragedy that left William and Kate “deeply saddened” and the DJs reeling, while others—and some UK tabloids—bayed for their blood.
Her death devastated her husband and their children: Junal, then 16, and Janice, then 15, who were both at crucial stages of their schooling. Junal was about to begin his A-Levels (the UK’s year 12 exams for university admission), while Janice, who was in year 10, was set to do her General Certificate of Secondary Education exams.
“The first few years were the hardest,” says Janice, who was adopted by Benedict and Jacintha at age 7. “I think it was hardest for my brother because he had to stay back a year, so he didn’t get to go to university at the same time as his friends.”
When he did go to Northumbria University, in Newcastle in northern England, to study architecture, Junal continued to struggle.
“I felt that I could have dropped out of uni at any moment with the amount of stress we had to deal with,” Junal, now 21 and in his final year of studies, tells WHO. “But it’s just been a case of having to keep going. Keep going for her.”
A turning point for the family came last Christmas, which had always been a difficult period.
“It’s the month she passed away,” says Janice, a second-year geology student at the University of Leicester who hopes to work in the field of natural resources. “We didn’t celebrate Christmas for three years.” But in 2016, “we felt we had to do something to move on and progress,” says Junal.
So while their father was in India, on his annual pilgrimage to his late wife’s grave for the anniversary of her death, his children decorated the house for the first time in four years.
“They put up some lights, a tree, everything,” recalls a smiling Benedict, 53. “It was a very nice feeling. They were being so thoughtful. It was a nice surprise.”
Says Janice: “We made Christmas dinner and started giving presents to each other again, all the things we used to do when Mum was around. This Christmas we are going to do the same. Hopefully each year it will get better, but obviously we will remember Mum, too.”
Remembering Jacintha has become a way of life for the family. After the tragedy, the family received a substantial donation from Southern Cross Austereo (2Day FM’s parent company) and they researched ways they could use the money for a good cause. “We just thought that whatever money we got we should do something in her name,” says Benedict, an accountant for the UK’s National Health Service. “We settled for naming a [hospital] ward in her name.” The hospital, which is being built by the Indian charity White Doves, is scheduled to be completed next year.
For Janice, her mother’s memory will endure through her own life. “I want to do well for myself education-wise because that’s all she ever wanted for me,” she says. “And helping other people. If people are in need, I will run to them, first thing. I try to be the person she was like as much as I can. She is an amazing woman and an inspiration every day.
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