07/28/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines glowering through titanium-framed sunglasses she designed, Sheila Vance could be excused for gloating. After all, her design beat out more than 500 others for the T3 contract. But Vance's triumph is tinged with sadness; up to 20 percent of the net profits generated by her $10-million-a-year eyewear company, Sama, is earmarked for teen drug-abuse programs. It is her way of paying tribute to her only child, Sam, who died of a heroin overdose in 1997 at age 19. "I thought if I could save one kid," Vance says, "Sam would be proud of me."
For two months after Sam, a sophomore at UCLA, died, Vance remained in a deep depression. Although she considered Sam "my best friend," she says, Vance, 48, who is divorced from Sam's father and lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., didn't know he was experimenting with drugs. "I feel I should have noticed something," she says. "I will always feel guilt."
What she mostly feels today, however, is inspiration. Thanks to Sama's success, Vance has been able to funnel more than $2 million to drug prevention and education programs through the nonprofit Sam Vance Foundation. Last year, when she wed optician Ross Herwitz, 41, she walked down the aisle accompanied by seven of Sam's closest friends. "Through them," she says, "I felt Sam was there."