Massachusetts native Alexander McLeish had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.
McLeish, 62, was recovering from open-heart surgery performed earlier in November when he received a get-well-soon card in the mail along with some lottery tickets in a yellow, bubble-wrapped envelope from a friend of more than five decades.
McLeish began scratching off the Massachusetts State Lottery's "$5,000,000 100X Cashword" ticket at his Attleborough, Mass., home with one of his sons by his side. What he saw next shook him so much he texted his friend and his brother to tell them the ticket was haunted.
The letters it revealed: AWM, his initials.
He kept scratching off words on the ticket, which looks like a crossword puzzle. The bottom row word read "heart" - and clenched him the million-dollar prize.
"I was calm and a little bit in disbelief," he said. "I just made sure I was breathing through my nose and out my mouth. I didn't want to test my heart too much."
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McLeish shared the news with friends and family, though he couldn't claim the win until the following day, because the state lottery headquarters was closed for the holiday. Instead they dug into a heart-healthy Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings to celebrate.
Now the sales merchandiser for Coca-Cola is focused on his recovery - with some added cash to boot.
"Everything is moving forward in the right direction," he told The Washington Post.
The eye-popping win is even more astounding considering the nearly insurmountable odds he faced in scoring a prize ticket. Coveted jackpots, such as the Powerball and Mega Millions, come with 1 in 292.2 million and 1 in 302.6 million jackpot odds, respectively, according to Lottery USA. McLeish had 1 in 1.008 million odds of winning his prize, according to the Massachusetts State Lottery, which announced the win. The $5 million tickets come with 1 in 5.04 million odds. One of those tickets has yet to be claimed.
McLeish has had some - if smaller - lottery luck in the past. He previously won $500 and pocketed $1,000 two years ago when the same friend, whom he won't identify, sent him a lottery ticket as a birthday gift, he said. Adding to the unusual tale: That ticket was purchased at the same Quickeez Beer, Wine and Convenience in Carver, Mass., as the million-dollar win, he said.
"He goes, 'I went back to that same store where I bought the $1,000 winner,'" McLeish recalled. " 'He goes, 'I wasn't even going in that store if it weren't for buying you a ticket.' "
The store will receive a $10,000 bonus for its sale of the winning ticket, according to the Massachusetts State Lottery.
The prize ticket was stored in a bureau drawer before McLeish drove to Dorchester, Mass., the next day to collect his prize.
"It was really nothing you can do. It was Thanksgiving Day," he said.
He and his family feasted upon a Thanksgiving meal including turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. He had to be pickier this year about what he could eat, making sure no salt was added, because of his heart, he said.
McLeish said he intends to give the friend who bought the ticket, and also grew up on the same street he did, "a little bit" of the prize money, in addition to his two adult sons. He offered to buy his wife a new car, but she declined, he said. Other than paying off some bills, McLeish said he hasn't made many other plans with his new riches.
He said he chose the lump sum, which comes out to $650,000 before taxes, based on his age and current health state.
When doctors clear him for work, he will probably go back, he said.
For now, he's focused on his recovery.
"Everything is moving along good," he said.