Sandra Blackburn

Sandra always wanted to be a mother, but she never expected it to be such a challenging endeavor. Born in Orange County, Calif., in 1956, she escaped from an abusive alcoholic father at 16 and was raised by her mother, who turned out to be an exemplary role model.

She met her high school sweetheart, Richard Blackburn, at 14. They married in 1975 after graduating from high school. Their first son, Rick, was born in 1980 after 36 hours of active labor during which Sandra was stricken with preeclampsia, a rapid rise in blood pressure that can be life-threatening for both mother and child. Both Sandra and Rick recovered with no permanent effects.

Two years later, her daughter, Randee, was delivered three months premature because of an ovarian tumor. Randee was born with hypogammaglobulinemia, an immune deficiency disorder that caused her to remain in the hospital until she was 3 months old.

Richard was transferred to Nellis Air Force Base, and the couple moved to Las Vegas in 1985. In 2000, Sandra was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but it was caught in the early stages, and she suffered no long-term effects.

Sandra, who has worked for 38 years as a medical administrator, has always had a generous heart. An avid animal lover, she has served as a boarder for sick animals for the Humane Society, housing more than 20 animals at one point. She also ran a small day-care center, watching six children in addition to her own.

On March 8, Sandra lost her husband to cancer. As cliché as it sounds, I really could see the pain behind her eyes, the loneliness after losing a loved one. For this photograph, we went to Desert Shores with her dogs. I have no idea what she was thinking about, but she really did look happy in the sunset.

Suggested Next Read

5. The Dirt on Reclaimed Water

Seven Shades of Green

5. The Dirt on Reclaimed Water

By Paul Szydelko

As the first student in the University of California system to receive a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, Dale Devitt knew he was on the forefront of something special in 1972 but didn’t quite know what to do next. Then his adviser invited him to work in his UC Riverside lab studying soil, and as the environmental movement blossomed, Devitt became a scientist specializing in water and soil issues.