Man Fighting Cancer Among Winners Of $1.3 Billion Powerball Jackpot

Eric Raskin

cheng saephan powerball winner

After Laizo Chao and her friends, married couple Cheng “Charlie” Saephan and Duanpen Saephan, went in together on $200 worth of tickets for the April 6 Powerball drawing with a $1.326 billion estimated jackpot, she sent a photo of the tickets to the Saephans and joked, “We’re billionaires.”

A day later, it was no joke. They were billionaires.

Or at least millionaires many times over. The Oregon Lottery shared in a press release this week announcing the identities of the winners that they’d taken the lump-sum cash option of $422.3 million after taxes, which is being split evenly — half to Chao, half to the Saephans.

It was a giant stroke of luck at a time when Cheng Saephan in particular was in the market for some good news.

The 46-year-old has been battling cancer since first being diagnosed in 2016, and had received his latest chemotherapy treatment just a week before the winning Powerball draw.

“I will be able to provide for my family and my health,” the father of two said Monday at a news conference in Salem, Oregon. He added that the money would help him “find a good doctor,” though he admitted to wondering, “How am I going to have time to spend all of this money? How long will I live?”

An immigrant’s tale

Saephan told reporters that he was born in Laos, moved to Thailand in 1987, and came to Portland in 1994 as a teenager.

He worked as a machinist for an aerospace company, but suffice to say his days of punching the clock are over, thanks to the winning ticket he and his 37-year-old wife purchased at a Plaid Pantry store in Portland.

He recommended early retirement for Chao, 55, as well. She was on her way to work when Saephan called her with the good news that they’d matched all six Powerball numbers, and he told her, “You don’t have to go anymore,” the Associated Press reported.

The Saephans and Chao claimed the fourth-largest Powerball jackpot ever, the eighth-largest U.S. draw lottery jackpot, and the ninth-biggest in U.S. history by lump-sum cash value (about $621 million before state and federal taxes).

Winners didn’t waste any time

While debates swirl about whether lottery winners should be entitled to anonymity, Oregon is one state where, with few exceptions, winners cannot remain anonymous. One of the arguments against anonymity is that winner stories provide important positive press for the lotteries, and certainly that’s the case with Saephan’s moving personal tale.

The Saephans and Chao came forward barely 24 hours after winning, though their identities remained under wraps for three more weeks while lottery officials completed the vetting process.

This is by far the largest lottery prize ever won in Oregon, topping a $340 million jackpot claimed in the state in 2005.

“I want to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the Saephans and Ms. Chao on this historic win,” Oregon Lottery Director Mike Wells said. “Not only is the prize life-changing for the three of them and their families, it’s also a huge win for the state.”

In addition to using some of the winnings to pay for his cancer treatments, Saephan also said his immediate plans for the money include buying a new house for his family.