Facing the final stages of ovarian cancer at just 35 years of age, Iva Dostanic asked her mother what the happiest day of her life had been. Without hesitation, Dragana Dostanic answered, “The day you were born.”
Dragana asked her daughter the same question. “Match Day 2011—the day I matched at Yale,” Iva replied.
“At the end of her life, that’s what Iva thought about,” says Dragana. “It shows how much she loved her work and being part of the Yale community.”
Brilliant young scientist Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, was a resident and research fellow at the School of Medicine when she succumbed to cancer in December 2011. Her parents have sought ways since then to celebrate her legacy.
“She was our only child,” says her father, Predrag Dostanic. “We want her to be remembered for her exceptional talents and the joy she found in her work. Together we had the idea to make a gift to Yale, a place she loved, that would benefit young scientists.”
To that end, Dragana and Predrag Dostanic have pledged their entire estate to Yale School of Medicine to endow the Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Physician-Scientist Fund. The income will support physician-scientist career development, and will continue to fund the annual Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Physician-Scientist Trainee Award and Lecture, which the Department of Internal Medicine initiated in 2011, and the Dostanics began supporting financially in 2015.
“It is very moving that Iva formed such a deep commitment to Yale in her short time with us,” says Robert J. Alpern, MD, dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine. “We are most appreciative that her parents have honored us with this generous gift in her memory.”
Born in Belgrade, in what then was Yugoslavia, Iva grew up in a family that prized education. Her mother is a pulmonologist; her father, an engineer and business executive. As a child Iva often accompanied Dragana to the hospital. “Watching her mother at work in her white coat, Iva was inspired to become a physician too,” Predrag recalls.
The family relocated first to Vienna, then to Athens, where Iva thrived in American international schools and decided to attend college in the United States. She earned her undergraduate degree with high honors from Manhattanville College, then pursued a PhD at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where she did pioneering work using what were then new methods of gene manipulation to examine hypertension. She co-authored 12 papers, five as a lead author with more than 100 citations each—an outstanding achievement for any researcher, let alone a graduate student.
Iva earned her PhD in molecular genetics, microbiology, and genetics, then pursued her dream of becoming a physician. Her parents relocated to the U.S. to be closer to her. Iva graduated from the Cleveland Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve in 2011. This five-year program combines medicine with a year of research.
Highly recruited, with many residency options on the table, she was accepted to Yale’s Physician-Scientist Pathway, with a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine. Overseeing this track was Peter S. Aronson, MD, C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine (Nephrology) and professor of cellular and molecular physiology.
“Beyond Iva’s considerable intellectual gifts, she had wonderful personal qualities. She was charismatic, positive, and enthusiastic,” says Aronson. “As an already fully formed scientist with a strong track record, she could have gone straight to a faculty position, but she wanted to be a physician.”
Iva was diagnosed with cancer in May 2011, and deferred her residency to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. After her treatment she came to New Haven to begin her research training. “Every day she woke up early, caught up on her reading, ran a few miles, then spent hours in the lab,” notes Dragana. “This was the life she wanted.”
Unfortunately, Iva’s cancer returned and her condition deteriorated. Less than a week before she died, she received the very first Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Physician-Scientist Trainee Award in a ceremony held in her room at Yale New Haven Hospital.
“We conceived of this award in Iva’s name to celebrate her intelligence, creativity, work ethic, and passion,” explains Aronson. “These qualities personify the ideals of the physician-scientist. Her parents’ gift will have a tremendous impact, allowing us to follow through on a key mission: training physician-scientists and enabling them to flourish as faculty.”
“Iva chose Yale for its academic excellence and sense of community,” says Predrag. “She is remembered and celebrated here and became part of the Yale family. And through her, we became part of that family too. We are very grateful.”