A Double Dose

Customers at the Solon Giant Eagle pharmacy where Natasa and Dragana Zivak work sometimes wonder why the young woman who looks so familiar doesn’t remember them.

“Someone will come up and say, I spoke to you earlier,’’ and I‘ll say, “I haven’t seen you all day,’’ says Dragana with an impish grin. Then the customer realizes that it’s not only the white pharmacy smocks that look alike: Two of the young pharmacy technicians are twins. It’s a fun Parent Trap moment for 22-year-old sisters who are unusually earnest beyond their years — especially about helping the customers who most need their help. Now Hiram College graduates and first-year pharmacy students at Northeast Ohio Medical University, the sisters’ views on life were shaped by moving to the United States at age 3½ as refugees from the Bosnian Civil War.

Natasa and Dragana know firsthand that the need for health care is great in rural areas like Hiram. Growing up, it was a 30-minute drive to get to a store or a pharmacy, let alone a hospital, from the Zivak family home. After graduation, the Zivak sisters are eager to help families who — like theirs — have faced many barriers to health care.

The twins’ earliest years were spent on the move, escaping fighting that came too close to their family home in Konjic, Bosnia. One vivid memory is of a house with a huge mattress where the whole family slept together. Eventually, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Parma helped the Zivak family immigrate to Ohio.

From their experiences growing up in rural Northeast Ohio, the twins were immediately attracted to the warmth they felt at NEOMED’S small campus, as well as the ample opportunities to interact with professors. Through classes at NEOMED, the sisters are learning the enormous impact that can be made by improving access to care. For example, students are trained to set up screening stations where pharmacy customers can have their blood glucose levels or blood pressure checked. Because Natasa and Dragana understand how hard it is to learn English, the sisters empathize with customers who struggle to make themselves understood.

As Natasa puts it, “We’ve survived this long because of people’s kindness. We want to return that and make sure people can get help.’’ As a result of both receiving Medical Mutual Education for Service Pharmacy Scholarships, the sisters have been able to pursue their dream. Without the generous support of such philanthropic donors who helped break down the financial barriers, NEOMED and the College of Pharmacy might not have been a realistic goal. To repay this generosity, the sisters look forward to working in an underserved rural or urban community.

For these two compassionate sisters, the career path sounds like a perfect fit.

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