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Congratulations Mateja Starman, 1st Runner-Up!

Meet Mateja Starman (26), a Pediatric Nurse and professional au pair from Austria nominated by the Ahmed family of Bethesda, Maryland. Caring for Ayla, born with a cleft lip and palate, Mateja's training as a pediatric nurse and loving care gave the Ahmed family peace of mind when they needed it most!

Mateja Starman, from Graz in Austria, studied at Universitat Klinikum Graz

Mateja came to us as an au pair back in February, taking a break from her work as a pediatric nurse in Austria. Very soon after she arrived though, she became part of our family, a younger sister to us and an aunt to our children. That is really the only way to label our relationships. Mateja has bonded with our family and provided such outstanding care to our children, going above and beyond, through efforts that could only come from a place of deep and genuine affection.

Before we get to why we can say this, some context may be helpful. We are a small family of four, with both parents working intense jobs. Our son, Armaan, had just turned two in April 2014 when we found out we were expecting again. Our initial joy however was darkened with anxiety when we found out that our little girl - Ayla - would be born with a very wide, unilateral, complete cleft lip and palate. With no family history of medical issues, we were devastated. We feared for our baby and how we would care for her through the surgeries she would need to endure in her first year. Through a friend, we found Pro-Aupair, and after interviewing just one candidate, we knew we had found someone who would be at home with us and who would provide exceptional care to our children. As Mateja said herself at the interview, “I think we will be a good team.” And indeed we have been.

Ayla had the first of her three cleft repair surgeries a week after Mateja arrived. After every surgery, we struggled to keep our little girl as comfortable and healthy as possible. Neither were easy. It was a challenge to keep her safe and hydrated enough to not return to the hospital. We were often red-eyed from tears and stress. Mateja was an invaluable part of our family support team and made sure Ayla stayed on track in her recovery, exercising patience and skills from her work feeding premature babies.

It truly was a team effort as we all experimented and shared ideas on the best ways to care for Ayla. On days Ayla would fight the special post-operative feeder, Mateja would sit with her for hours, feeding her drop by drop. When Ayla stopped accepting food via syringe altogether after her last surgery, Mateja experimented with different utensils and foods till she found the right combination that Ayla would accept. By the end of Ayla’s last recovery period, she was eating more food than she had been before her surgery. Such dedication doesn’t just show that Mateja is a good nurse with strong technical skills, but also demonstrates how much she cares about Ayla.

This level of care is something she has shown in all her interactions with our children, keeping them physically and emotionally well. For example, she has such a close relationship with Armaan that she can tell whenever something is bothering him, even when he is less than forthcoming. In the past year there have been several times when he has been upset about things that happened at his pre-school, but that teachers have neglected to tell us. However, Mateja always knows when something is wrong and is able to figure out what is bothering him, to comfort him herself and to let us know.

In addition to being an exemplary caregiver, Mateja has made our home a happier place and has shared her culture and been open to learning about ours. Over the past eleven months, there has not been a single day when she has not been cheerful and smiling, and that positive attitude has noticeably brightened our home. Mateja has a very easy-going personality and has enthusiastically embraced our family life, from watching presidential debates, learning to make Bangladeshi curries, going trick-or- treating, riding an elephant with Armaan at a Renaissance festival and making special birthday cakes for Armaan and visiting grandparents. We have also embraced many Austrian customs and Mateja even coordinated an “Austria” week with flag making, classical music from Austrian composers, and the celebration of international wiener schnitzel day. We have shared many conversations about life experiences, dreams, hopes, and hobbies and have enjoyed seeing our culture through Mateja’s eyes. Getting to know her so well has also allowed for frank exchanges about ideas and concerns, so much so that not only have we never had any issues at all with each other, but we continue to have rich discussions on a range of topics.

In our eyes, Mateja thus fully deserves to be “au pair of the year”. She has not only excelled at caring for our children during challenging times, but has also become an integral part of our family.