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Nurse Seetha Padmanabhan celebrates 50 years at SickKids
5 minute read

Nurse Seetha Padmanabhan celebrates 50 years at SickKids


This month marks 50 years since Nurse Seetha Padmanabhan, who was the primary nurse for conjoined twins Nida and Hira Jamal, first joined SickKids’ Nursing team.

Person standing in SickKids atrium.
“I’m here for the children,” says Nurse Seetha Padmanabhan, who is celebrating 50 years at SickKids this month.

In the ICU on a cold February night in 1995, Registered Nurse Seetha Padmanabhan holds two-year-old Nida Jamal in her lap.

Just one month prior, Nida and her sister Hira were joined at the head. After more than 15 hours in surgery, the sisters were separated at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) on Jan. 23, 1995.

As their primary nurse, it is Padmanabhan’s job to care for the two young girls as they recover. In typical Padmanabhan fashion, she treats this duty as more than a job — under her care, these girls are her family. She holds them in her lap as they sleep, she chats with their father in Hindi, their family refers to her as “Aunty Ji.” She even went to the airport to pick them up when they first arrived from Pakistan.

On this February night, Nida dies of cardiac arrest while Seetha is working the night shift. Today, more than 25 years later, Padmanabhan says she will never forget those girls. Hira survived and returned to Pakistan with her family, and over the years they continued to regularly reach out to Seetha. Just to say hi, to thank her for her care, or wish her well during Eid.

Collage of yellowed newspaper articles featuring photos of twins joined at the head.
The Jamal twins’ separation surgery was widely reported in 1995.

This month, Padmanabhan is celebrating 50 years at SickKids.

In October 1972, she joined the hospital as a nurse in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). All within the span of less than a year, she left her home in India, moved to Belleville, Ont., got married and started her dream job in Toronto at SickKids. She started out in 5D before moving up one floor to Neurology — where you can still find her today.

“I’m here for the children. I want to do my best for them until my last day here, and after that.”

She moved through many different roles and grew in her career with her specialized skills as a sedation nurse. She credits much of her success to her incredibly supportive team, including her manager, Roy Sharma, who always believed in her.

Sharma describes Padmanabhan as an inspiration. “We are so fortunate to have such a dedicated and specialized sedation nurse who gives so much to our patients and their families,” he says. Sharma says all the neurophysiology technologists and Neurosciences staff are so grateful and impressed by her dedication and commitment to SickKids.

According to Padmanabhan, the team is one of the main reasons she stayed. “I have that feeling that I belong somewhere. Where I’m kept safe like a mama,” she says. “Nowhere else do you get that support.”

As a leader in her unit, Padmanabhan has always kept a democratic approach. In tense times, she never hesitated to check in with her team. Sometimes, all it took was a quick, very-early-morning breakfast at Fran’s to bond as a group.

Senior Registered Neurodiagnostic Tech Amrita Viljoen, who has worked with Padmanabhan for the last 15 years, says Padmanabhan’s greatest strength is her compassion. “She is a thoughtful and caring woman — with the patients and our co-workers,” Viljoen says. “She is very hard working and goes above and beyond.”

Reflecting on the last 50 years, Padmanabhan names a few people she couldn’t have made it without: Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Taylor, Vice-President of Clinical Operations Karen Kinnear, and most of all, her family. Her late husband, Hari, and sons Hari and Eswar.

The bond Seetha shared with twins Hira and Nida, though special, was not unusual for her. She tells me she makes special connections with everyone she meets, a classic Seetha trait.

It’s clear Padmanabhan is someone who treats everyone like family, which is really what our kind of nursing has always been about.

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