Sarah Catherine (Wells) Derkowski was born in Galveston on June 6, 1979 and died at home in Houston on April 20, 2019, surrounded by her family, just a few weeks before her 40th birthday. She is survived by her husband, Brian Derkowski and children, Emily (age 7) and Andrew (age 5); her mother Jean Cook (husband Carl); father Kevon Wells (wife Kimberly); sister Rachel Parker (husband Brad); and brother Caleb Wells (wife Lauren). Sarah is preceded in death by her loving grandparents and her step-brother, David Jolly. She is also survived by a large family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws.
Sarah earned two degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Texas A&M University, a BS in 2001 and MS in 2002. As a newly-minted biomedical engineer, she worked for Wyle Laboratories, contractor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to support Space Shuttle Medical Hardware Development. As a project manager this took her to Florida often to hand carry hardware for space shuttle launches or track down vendors to help fix misbehaving hardware. Always a dedicated employee, Sarah volunteered to experience weightlessness, taking one for the team in one of NASA’s aircrafts nicknamed the “vomit comet.” NASA astronauts presented her with the Silver Snoopy Award (their personal award to recognize individuals’ outstanding contributions to flight safety and mission success) for her work on the development, testing and certification of the Shuttle Orbiter Medical System (SOMS) Resuscitator, created to help astronauts during any potential medical emergencies during space flight. Working later as a systems engineer, she helped NASA plan for a return to the Moon, making sure that the launch vehicle, crew vehicle, lunar lander and launch facilities all work together. She would show patience and understanding on endless teleconferences, helping senior managers at NASA headquarters and other NASA field centers. Asked her about her work, Sarah’s explanations often exceeded a layman’s understanding, or just, “Sorry, it’s classified.” Her reputation as a respected engineer was known across multiple NASA centers around the country. It was here that she would meet Brian.
Sharing her time between work and family, Sarah adored her talented husband, Brian, and her beautiful children. Sarah had a sharp wit and strong opinions that Brian quickly kept pace with. No surprise here: two bright Aggie engineers produced two precocious children, loved and nurtured by an extended family. Sarah loved people, both family and friends, and all have stories to tell about the pool parties at their home with many wet kids, sodden towels, and watermelon to top off the picnics. Emily acted as program director, and Andrew could subvert Sarah’s party plans for carefully prepared food and hand-made décor, rainbows with perfect arches and precisely folded airplanes. Sarah loved and cared for her precious children, whom she nicknamed “Goose” and “Beetle.” She taught and guided them, and generously gave her love and laughter.
Sarah enjoyed her work at NASA but relished her time with her family. She was an organizer and a planner as she could manage a myriad of tasks simultaneously with grace. Childhood photos of Sarah show her posing protectively between her two siblings with arms draped over their shoulders. As the eldest, Sarah easily and early assumed her role as caretaker of the crew. And all were welcome in her circle: new friends, in-laws as her siblings married, and generations of cousins, added to her own growing family. She kept track of birthdays, special occasions and outpoured her thanks to teachers, friends and family. Once while at MD Anderson, she wondered out loud how anyone could endure the ravages of cancer alone and remarked that she was lucky as she had an army.
Reaching deep, her spirit prevailed even as her strength failed. The last two years of Sarah’s life were difficult, experiencing untold pain, endless medicines and doctor visits, all for the sake of extending her time to be there for her family. She endured so much with perseverance, grace and dignity. Sarah’s life among us has been cut short, too short by our human expectations, but her example of a life well-lived is enduring. She designed a model for living, as carefully as she designed space flight equipment, a model worth repeating and paying forward.
A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at 10:30am at First Presbyterian Church, 1903 Church St., Galveston, Texas, with Reverends Ed Wolf of First Presbyterian Church and Brian Cannaday of St. Christopher Episcopal Church of League City officiating. Private family interment will be at Galveston’s Evergreen Cemetery, where generations of Sarah’s family are interred. In lieu of flowers, donations to MD Anderson Cancer Center or your favorite charity are welcomed.
MD Anderson Cancer Center
P.O. Box 4486, Houston TX 77210-4486