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Immigrant cancer patient wins $1.3 billion Powerball, shares with friend who bought lottery ticket

Cheng Saephan has had cancer for eight years. He can now afford quality medical care
UPDATED JUN 27, 2024
Photo illustration of tickets for the  Powerball lottery | Getty Images | Photo illustration by Tasos Katopodis
Photo illustration of tickets for the Powerball lottery | Getty Images | Photo illustration by Tasos Katopodis

In a heartwarming twist of life, a cancer patient won the Powerball Jackpot lottery worth $1.3 billion earlier this year. An immigrant from Laos, Cheng “Charlie” Saephan, 46, of Portland, had said after winning that he and his wife will take only half of the prize money and the remaining will go to a friend in Portland, who chipped in $100 for the ticket. They all are taking home about $422 million, after taxes, per a release from the Oregon Lottery.



 

Saephan, 46, was born in Laos and lived in Thailand before immigrating to the US in 1994. He graduated from high school in 1996 and worked as a machinist for an aerospace company. He has been living in Portland for over 30 years. 

At the conference held by the Oregon Lottery, Saephan said he had cancer for eight years and had his chemotherapy treatment a week before winning the lottery. He has two young children, and as a cancer patient, he often wondered, what the future would look like if he wins.

“I will be able to provide for my family and my health,” he said, after winning the lottery. He added that he would find a good doctor for his treatment as well.

He identified himself as member of the Iu Mien, a Southeast Asian ethnic group. He raised awareness about his people many of whom served as subsistence farmers in Vietnam. Thousands of lu Mien families helped the American forces during the Vietnam War, after which they fled to Thailand to avoid retribution. Eventually many immigrated and settled in the U.S.



 

Saephan confirmed that he and his 37-year-old wife, Duanpen, will be sharing the prize with Laiza Chao, 55, also from the Portland suburb of Milwaukie.

The ticket was sold in April by a Plaid Pantry convenience store in Portland. Chao, who bought the tickets, sent a photo of them to Saephan saying, “We’re billionaires.” While it was just a joke, it turned out to be true the very next day after the drawing.

In the week leading up to the drawing, Saephan wrote down the numbers for the game on a piece of paper and kept it under his pillow. He said he prayed every day to win saying, “I need some help — I don’t want to die yet unless I have done something for my family first.”

When they won the lottery, Saephan called up Chao, 55, who was on her way to work. Saephan told her the news and said she didn’t need to go to work anymore.

Representative image of a customer at a 7-Eleven store checks the numbers on his Powerball lottery ticket | Getty Images | Photo by Scott Olson
Representative image of a customer at a 7-Eleven store checks the numbers on his Powerball lottery ticket | Getty Images | Photo by Scott Olson

Saephan’s win ended a winless streak of over three months. The Oregon Lottery had to go through a vetting process and security checks before announcing the winner who had come forward to claim the prize.

Apart from a few exceptions, lottery players can’t remain anonymous under Oregon law. Winners have one year to claim the top prize.

The $1.3 billion prize that Saephan won is the fourth largest Powerball jackpot in history and the eighth largest prize among the U.S. jackpot games, as per the Oregon Lottery. The biggest jackpot ever won was $2.04 billion claimed in California in 2022, as per AP News.

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