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The Winning Ticket
Sandy Rish came to the United States from Taiwan when she was twenty-one. Through hard work and determination, she eventually achieved the American dream: owning her own business in a small community just outside Los Angeles.
"I have a little coffee shop next to the Amtrak station in the city of Fullerton," says Sandy. "We cater mostly to the commuters and Amtrak people."
Over the years, Sandy became good friends with two Fullerton police officers who patrol the station, Sergeant Fred Casas and Senior Police Officer Bill Wallis.
"We've kind of adopted the restaurant as our unofficial substation," says Fred. "Sandy's kind of a jokester herself, and she can put up with a bunch of rowdy cops."
"I see her on a daily basis when I'm working," concurs Bill. "She's more than a friend, almost like a sister."
Besides meals, Sandy's cafe dispensed coffee, snacks, and lottery tickets. She managed to earn a modest income until 1998, when months of unusually heavy rain washed out sections of the track.
"My business is dependent on the trains," says Sandy. "Some days I went three, four days without a train. If nobody takes the train, I don't have any business."
Going over her bills at night, Sandy realized that something had to go."I've got to do something about the budget," she said, "but I don't know what to cut back."
One of her employees offered to cut down on hours, but Sandy said no, she needed the help at the cafe.
"The first thing I thought was, Well, I'm in good health. I don't even catch colds," says Sandy. "You know, nothing."And so, Sandy canceled her health insurance. She just couldn't afford it.
"I work eighty, ninety hours a week," Sandy states. "Out of the nine kids in my family, I'm the toughest one. And nobody ever thought anything was going to happen to me."
But a few months later, Sandy suddenly fell ill.
"When I woke up, I thought, I feel kind of funny in my stomach and my leg," Sandy recalls. "It was like having a charley horse in your leg. That's what my whole body felt like."
But Sandy went into work as usual. She checked the cafe refrigerator and made a grocery list.
"I'm going to go shopping, guys, see you in a little bit," she said.
She was on her way to the produce market when Bill and Fred walked in.
"Hey, you're late," she teased them."And they said, 'Oh, come on, have a cup of coffee with us. It's Saturday; you don't have to rush."
Sandy says."No, no, no. I've got to go. I have work to do," she told them."No, you can't go shopping without a little," Fred insisted.
"So I said all right," says Sandy. "Thank God they invited me to sit down, because I would have been out on the street somewhere."
"As we talked, she suddenly reached her hand over the table, and touched me on the arm," recalls Fred, "and at the same time, started to lean back in her chair.""Oh, God, here it comes again," Sandy said."Almost immediately, she got a really contorted look on her face, and she went board stiff," Fred says.
Sandy was having a seizure.
"Got her, got her. Move the chair, set her down," Fred directed. He and Bill helped Sandy to the ground.
"Lock the door and get everybody out."
"Cristobal, the cook who was on duty, started closing up the doors to the restaurant so we wouldn't get a crowd," says Fred. "I immediately got on my radio and requested paramedics to respond.""I've got vitals on her; I've got breathing," Fred told them.
"Sandy, you're going to be okay," Bill said.
"It was just a matter of minutes, probably less than two minutes, until the paramedics responded," Fred recounts.
"Sandy, can you hear me?" he asked her. "We're right here, hon. Okay?"
"The medics are on their way. Just relax," Bill told her."She had no idea where she was; she didn't know who we were," Bill says.
"That was frightening. You know somebody, and you spend the day before with them, and the next thing you know, boom! they're down for the count and there's not much you can do."
"To be quite honest, it scared the hell out of me," admits Fred. "I've known Sandy for a number of years and she's a good friend of mine, somebody that my family knows. I felt really helpless."
Sandy was rushed to the hospital, where a battery of tests revealed the problem. And the diagnosis could not have been worse.
"I had a tumor," says Sandy, "that grew into the main nerve in my brain, where they had to get it out. Otherwise, I'd die."
The tumor was not malignant, but the prognosis was not good. She would need immediate surgery and intensive medical attention for the rest of her life. The neurosurgeon called in on her case was Dr. McGee.
"He told me I was going to die anyway, because it's one of those types of tumors that would be recurrent. But we don't know when it will reoccur," Sandy says.
"The tumor was benign, but if it stayed there, I wouldn't be alive. So we had to get the tumor out.I was in shock," she admits "My life had just begun. My kids were all grown and I was just having fun. I had my business and I was doing what I wanted to do, and when something like that happened, I thought, Well, I'm getting punished for something, I don't know what.
"But then I found out how many friends I have, from this illness," Sandy says. Bill and Fred, for example, came by her room, bringing balloons and flowers.Within days, Sandy underwent five hours of brain surgery in an attempt to remove the tumor."The next thing I knew," Sandy says, "when I woke up, they told me that the tumor was out and the doctor was very happy with his operation. And I figured, Well, the doctor's happy, so I'll be happy too."
"They were able to remove the majority of the tumor," Bill elaborates, "however, there was a portion of it remaining, and they would try to treat that with chemotherapy, radiation."
Sandy was moved out of the intensive care unit and into a regular hospital room.
"Everybody was in shock, how I recovered and everything," says Sandy. "Every doctor was really, really shocked. Really happy with my recovery."
"She did eventually recuperate to the point where she'd get out of bed, and she was walking," recalls Fred.
"I talked to the physical therapists," Bill says, "and they were amazed how she was leaps and bounds over other patients they've seen with the same affliction. It was pretty amazing."
Fred and Bill visited Sandy often, to help keep up her spirits.
"Fred and I told her that we made some suggestions to the doctors of what things to take out and other portions of her brain that quite possibly could improve her," Bill joked.
But as her health improved, other worries began to wear Sandy down. Her doctor bills were mounting, and without health insurance, she couldn't afford continued therapy. And so, the moment she was well enough to walk, Sandy checked herself out of the hospital."
I wish you'd reconsider," the medical staff told her."I said, 'Hey, I got to pay the doctor, you know,' " Sandy states. "And so, I got out of the hospital on January sixth. I went to work on the seventh, with crutches."
"Sandy, what are you doing here?" an employee asked.
"I wanted to see how my restaurant was surviving without me," Sandy replied."Everybody thought I was crazy, because I was supposed to be doing my rehab therapy," she says. "I couldn't afford it. Because I was already out of the hospital, it would cost me about two or three hundred dollars a day to go to the rehab. So I said, this is my rehab, at work."
Even painful radiation treatments couldn't stop Sandy from working to pay off her bills.
"When I was in my radiation, I was working," she says. "I got up at 4:00 in the morning, went to work, opened the shop by 5:30, and got out of there five minutes before 1:00, to go to the hospital, get my radiation, and then go home. I had to pay the bills."
Sandy kept her financial problems to herself, until they became so severe that she turned to an old friend for advice.
"I remember one morning I came into the depot to get my usual cup of coffee," says Bill, "and she walked up with a brown paper bag, and she emptied these doctor bills.""Geez, these are all from the hospital?" Bill asked.
"And the doctors, and everything," Sandy conceded."There were thousands of dollars that she was being requested to pay," Bill recalls. "Obviously, she didn't have insurance, so this was coming out of her pocket."
"It's a lot of money. I don't know where I'll get the money from," she said.
"She didn't want to let any of her employees go; they had basically kept the store running while she was gone. So she put the doctors on a payment plan. It was a hundred bucks--a hundred bucks here, and a hundred bucks there," Bill explains. "And we would both be dead before she'd get them paid off."
Sandy had about as much of a chance of getting out of debt as her customers had of winning the lottery, but all that was about to change. Sandy needed a miracle, and, luckily, one was on the way.
"I was at work one day, and the lottery district salesperson called me and said, 'Hey, congratulations. You've finally sold a big one,' " Sandy says. "And I said, 'Oh, give me a break. Don't even bother with me. I'm so busy right now.' "
Sandy's lottery machine had sold a ticket worth close to one hundred thousand dollars.
"So, I picked up the phone and I called up Mom and Dad and I said, 'Hey, one of you guys win the big one, maybe? Because I sold a big one from my store.' So Dad checked and he said, 'No, not us.' And I said, 'Gee, I wonder who I sold that big one to?' " Sandy says.
"Half an hour later, everything quiets down, and I think, 'Hey, I could've sold it to myself.' "Sandy remembered that she'd bought some Fantasy Five tickets, shared with two other friends.
"My dad always told me, 'Don't ever quit, 'cause that's the time you're going to hit it.' So even as broke as I am, I have never quit," she reveals.
And when she checked the results, she realized her regular numbers had won.
"I was holding my head, saying, 'Oh, my God. I won; I've sold myself a winner.' And all the customers were asking 'Are you okay?' because I was holding my head, and so I got everybody's attention. And I was crying," Sandy remembers. "I said, 'You'll never believe it; I just sold myself a winner.' "
But just as quickly, she remembered that she'd already thrown the winning ticket away.
"At that time, they'd already dumped it into another trash can, which is a fifty-five-gallon trash can," she says. "I just went over there and pulled the whole trash bag out, and between me, the cashier, and the cook, we went through fifty-five gallons of trash, to find the winning ticket."
"Right here! Right here! I got it! I got it!" Sandy shouted.A short time later, Bill and Fred came by."Oh, my gosh! I've found the ticket!" Sandy told them excitedly.
"Hey, what are you screaming about?" they asked her.
"She was grinning like a Cheshire cat, and I said, 'What are you smiling about?' " Fred says. "And she said, 'I've won the lotto.' I kind of laughed at her and said, 'Oh, your machine's rigged; we know that's not possible.' "
"I won the lotto last night, and I threw it away. I threw it away! Come here, come here, tell them," Sandy said to her employees. "Tell them what we just did."
"Let me see," Bill and Fred asked her. She showed them the ticket.
"We looked at it, and sure enough, it was a winning ticket," Bill says. "We thought it was kind of funny because the shop gets a cut of the winnings--so, since she purchased the ticket at her shop, she gets the winnings plus a cut for selling the ticket to herself. So, of course, we told her that the whole thing was rigged."
"I get to pay my bills," Sandy said.
"Oh, man, that's great!" Fred congratulated her.
"I'm not sharing with you guys," Sandy declared."Okay," said Fred.
"Hey, wait a minute," Bill teased.
"The amount of money that she got for the winnings was enough to pay off her bills," says Bill, "so that was pretty close to being a miracle."
"If anyone deserved to win the lotto, it was Sandy," states Fred. "It wasn't like it was something that just happened to her. I believe it was her reward for working so hard and never giving up."
"It was just enough for me to pay the doctors back, and clear up all the bills, plus the credit card I was living on when I was in the hospital," Sandy confirms. "So, it came at the right time and I just said, Thank you, God. Somebody is watching out for me."
Today Sandy has completely recovered, and her problems--both medical and financial--are solved."
Now, if you didn't know she'd gone through surgery, you probably would never guess," says Fred. "It's incredible how quickly and how fully she's recovered."
"I go to church on Sundays, and I think He heard my prayer. Because all I wanted to do was pay the doctors off, and then I could start all over again," says Sandy. "So, I think that is a miracle."
"There was a large intervention from God in this whole thing," declares Bill. "He put us there with Sandy when she had the seizure, so that her medical aid was the quickest route possible. He gave her the incentive to fight this. And then, all of a sudden, there's money."
"The fact that the lotto winnings were the amount that they were, I believe is a kind of divine intervention," says Fred. "A huge ream of bills had been coming in and the winnings were almost exactly what she needed to pay, everything to the penny."
"I'm on medication for the rest of my life, but every day I wake up, I say thank you for waking up again. I can go to work like everybody else, and be surrounded by my friends," says Sandy. Friendship, your parents, your relatives around you--that's more important than anything else."
From the Trade Paperback edition.