Nana Marie

"The most wonderful kind-hearted person"

Nana Marie

"The most wonderful kind-hearted person"

Marie Jujnovich has been supporting children and their whānau, impacted by childhood heart conditions for the past 30 years as a Volunteer Family Support Taituarā.

She started volunteering in June 1991 at Green Lane Hospital, spending four days per week on the wards. Following the transfer of the paediatric cardiac team to Starship Children’s Hospital in 2003, Marie continued to support Heart Kids NZ members on ward 23b. Up until lockdown 2021, Marie was still on the ward two days per week from 6.30am to 2.00pm - at age 85 years.

"She is the friendly face that lights up when she sees our kids come into the ward"

‘Nana Marie’, as she is affectionately called by the hundreds of heart children, teens, adults and whānau that she has supported over the past 30 years, is the grandmother of a heart child. Just as she supported her daughter and grandson during their multiple stays in hospital, she shares this lived experience with others who are going through a similar traumatic and difficult time. Her warm and assuring presence has helped many families at Starship, who are often far away from their own family support in other parts of the country.

Nana Marie provides a listening ear and wise counsel; she is empathetic, compassionate and has an incredible warmth. She is trusted by parents and this enables her to provide practical support minding a child while a parent takes a shower, eats a meal, or goes for a walk, knowing their child is not alone, but safe in the arms of Nana Marie.

She has touched the hearts of thousands of families during their heart journeys and her support has not ended when their hospital stay is over. Nana Marie has been the familiar figure there to greet families returning to Starship for appointments and further surgeries.

She has attended many funerals of the babies, children, teens and adults who have become heart angels on Nana Marie’s watch.

“Nana Marie wraps her support around families facing the unknown, they can trust and confide in her and this makes such a difference.”

When asked, at the end of a day in hospital how her day has been, Nana Marie’s unerring refrain is - “Today has been the best day of my life” - because she loves nothing more than walking alongside those going through some of their worst days, giving her all to the families she supports and expecting nothing in return.

Nana Marie has become the much-loved, deeply respected, constant and comforting face of Heart Kids NZ. Her ability to connect with parents and meet them with an open heart when they arrive at Starship, often scared and overwhelmed and with a very sick child, is invaluable to our organisation.

Over the past 30 years, as many changes have taken place in both Heart Kids NZ and the health system, Nana Marie has been the anchor providing consistent and loving support for our heart children and their families.

“Nana Marie was someone we never knew we needed in our life until we met her”
“Nana to all heart kids… we love you lots”
“Such a simple kindness and it meant so much. Thank you, Nana Marie, you're an angel”

On August 17, 2021, Nana Marie was presented with a Minister of Health Volunteer Award for Outstanding Achievement in Long Service.

This award recognised volunteers who have made a long-standing commitment to voluntary work for health and disability organisations.

After 30 years devoted to supporting heart children and their whānau, Heart Kids NZ was thrilled when Nana Marie was selected as a worthy recipient of this award. Marie received her award at the Grand Hall, Parliament in August 2021, just as government was on the cusp of announcing another nationwide lockdown.

“You’re one in a million Nana Marie”

In October 2021, Nana Marie was nominated for a Westfield Local Hero award. After huge support from the voting public, Nana Marie was crowned the Westfield Local Hero. She so selflessly gives her time, care and love to our heart whānau and it is wonderful to see Nana Marie receiving recognition for the commitment, dedication, compassion and love that she has poured into our heart families over decades.

During lockdown, when many felt isolated, Nana Marie embraced technology and posted weekly messages of support and encouragement which received hundreds of positive responses.

She is truly loved and makes a difference in so many people’s lives.

Heart Kids NZ is enriched beyond words to have such a beautiful, selfless and loving ambassador holding the torch of encouragement and hope for our members over three decades.

Nana Marie truly exemplifies this whākataauki that speaks of humility - “Kaore te kūmara e kōrero, mō tōna ake reka” The sweet potato does not talk of its sweetness. Thank you, Nana Marie, for the selfless, humble sharing of your gentle, loving spirit with our Heart Kids NZ whānau - you are a true Heart Hero.

“We are truly blessed to have you in our lives, where would we ever have been without you holding our hands on this journey.”