From day one: Pharmacy alumni find love at Wayne State and remain Wayne Loyal
“We met on the first day when Jerry introduced himself at the end of our first chemistry lab,” Livia (Ciccarelli) Franchina '78 recalled.
Whether chemical reactions — when different elements combine to form a new substance — were being taught that day is lost to history. But a new entity — Jerry and Livia — did emerge from that lab nearly 50 years ago.
“She grew up in Dearborn; I grew up on the east side of Detroit,” Gerard (Jerry) Franchina '78 said. “But we share an Italian heritage. One of the things that I pointed out to her on the very first day was a church you could see from the building where we were taking classes. It was a Sicilian parish, Holy Family Roman Catholic Church.”
Shared Italian heritage? Check. Strong Catholic upbringing? Yes. Both pharmacy students? You bet.
Though they were just friends during their time at Wayne State’s pharmacy school, their common backgrounds, interests and experiences were building blocks to something special as they explored the Wayne State area and the possibilities of a career in pharmacy.
“Wayne State pharmacy school did a great job of helping us see everything pharmacists could do,” Livia said. “There were so many options.”
Both Jerry and Livia were high-achieving students who maintained great grades. Livia was a Merit Scholar at Wayne State, served as pharmacy class president for two years, and started working at Harper Hospital as an intern while still a student. She even helped Jerry get an internship at the same hospital. After graduation, both were hired on as staff pharmacists. Working together, their commitment to each other grew.
“Things got to the point where we got engaged, and then we faced the dilemma where we tried to keep it hidden,” Jerry said. “We were working in the same pharmacy with the same patients, so I requested to switch to another area in the hospital.”
Jerry started working in Harper’s sixth-floor pharmacy but spent his nights earning his M.B.A. at the University of Detroit. With this training and his interest in emerging technologies, he became involved in the management of the hospital’s computer system. He later served as assistant director of pharmacy at Children's Hospital of Michigan, where he oversaw the installation of the first medication-dispensing robot. The robot, nicknamed Phred, made local headlines at the time.
“We were the first children's hospital in the country to have a robotic dispensing system, and we redesigned the whole pharmacy around this robot,” Jerry said.
Jerry later became the director of pharmacy services at Children’s. As the new millennium began, he took his career into the corporate sector, where he worked with clients such as Daimler-Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., DTE Energy and many others, managing their formularies — lists of pharmaceutical drugs chosen for insurance coverage.
“Companies knew they spent big dollars on drugs and wanted to know how we could help them save,” Jerry said.
Livia, meanwhile, moved from Harper’s pharmacy to focusing on pain management. Working at various hospitals, and remotely from her home office due to Covid restrictions, she carefully advised hundreds of patients on the proper usage of pain medication.
“Working in pain management felt really needed,” Livia said. “It felt like I was making a difference and contributing to the improvement of my patient’s lives.”
During their stints at various hospitals, Jerry and Livia served as preceptors for students on rotation from the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (EACPHS). Jerry’s rotations included computer systems, automation and specialty drug management. Livia said aspiring pharmacists found her pain management expertise invaluable and appreciated the Pain Management Clinic at DMC's close proximity to campus.
“Many of the students planning to go into retail pharmacy chose my rotation because they often have patients with pain,” Livia said. “As the opioid crisis started, there became monitoring systems pharmacists had to learn about, and they had to learn to make assessments and not be judgmental, which is important because there are often patients who legitimately have pain and need certain medications.”
Over the nearly five decades after the day they met, Livia and Jerry created interesting and helpful careers, raised two sons and found time to contribute to the education of others. History buff Jerry is a presenter with the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and is on the Speakers Bureau of the Henry Ford Heritage Association. Livia co-teaches a pharmacology course in the EACPHS Radiologic Technology program.
The couple also makes it a point to support Wayne State through annual donations and has done so every year since 1980. While they exemplify Wayne Loyal, they also assist in other ways, such as meeting with students, serving the WSU Alumni Association and volunteering at phone banks.
Livia’s merit scholarship fully funded her five years at Wayne State, and she and Jerry love paying it forward and supporting today’s students. In addition to supporting EACPHS, the Franchinas donate to the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, which immerses top students in the history and culture of Detroit.
The Franchinas have always adored the city. Jerry said he loved going to college in such a culturally rich location. “I really enjoyed going down to campus. I would go over to the Detroit Historical Museum after an exam just to decompress and get lost in the history,” Jerry said. “Livia and I go down there quite often nowadays and reminisce. Things have changed quite a bit, but the history is still there.”
Part of that history is the buildings on Wayne State’s campus, including the McGregor Memorial Conference Center and Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium. Livia is particularly thrilled about the restoration of the DeRoy reflecting pool which has been devoid of water since the mid-1980s, and which she says exemplifies Wayne State’s rich vision for the future and commitment to honoring its past.
“Through donations, places like the reflecting pool are taken care of, and the memories they hold for all of us can become memories for the future,” Livia said. “I like giving back because I remember how grateful I was to receive my scholarship. It made a huge difference for me.”