As It Happens

N.Y. man dies from cancer 3 weeks after winning $1M lottery

Shortly after winning a New York Lottery scratch ticket, Donald Savastano was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
Donald Savastano poses alongside store clerk Danielle Scott with his $1-million US novelty cheque after winning the New York Lottery in Sydney, N.Y. Savastano died of cancer less than a month later. (WBNG)

Story transcript

When Donald Savastano cashed in his winning $1-million US lottery ticket last month, he told local TV station WBNG he was going to use the money to "invest for the future."

That future, however, was cut tragically short. 

Savastano, a 52-year-old self-employed carpenter from Sydney, N.Y., died on Jan. 26 after what his obituary calls "a recent diagnosis" of stage 4 cancer.

"It was really, really sad," Danielle Scott, the Mirabito cashier who sold him the winning ticket in nearby Masonville, N.Y., told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"He didn't even get time to enjoy any of the money."

Scott remembers the day he bought the winning ticket, she said. 

She said he scanned the "Merry Millionaire" in the store, then made a sound, like "Uhh."

'I go, 'What, did you win money?' And he said, 'Did I win money? I won a million dollars!'" she said. "It was really exciting."

Immediately, she said, he started making plans for the future.

"He was planning on getting a very nice, cool truck. He wanted to go on vacation because he worked his whole life.  And he wanted to use it as a retirement plan," she said.

'He could finally afford to go' to the doctor 

A week later, she said a friend of Savastano's stopped by the store with some distressing news. 

"They told me that he had gone to the doctor because he hadn't been feeling well and he could finally afford to go," she said. "He was self-employed, a contractor, so he didn't have any insurance."

He was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer, the friend told her, and was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment.

"I was really hoping that maybe the money was going to end up saving his life," she said.

But soon after, she learned that he died just over three weeks after his big win.

As It Happens was unable to reach Savastano's friends or family for comment.

'A big heart'

Savastano's obituary says he died "suddenly ... after a recent diagnosis of stage 4 cancer."

"He was known for his high-quality work and perfectionism. He always tried to reach out and help those he could by teaching them 'the right way to do things,'" it reads.

He leaves behind his mother, four brothers and two sisters, as well as his girlfriend of 12 years, Julie Wheeler, and her two sons, Alex and Kaspar Gray.

Scott said she didn't know him well, but that they had many friends in common. 

"I've heard nothing but wonderful things about what a hard worker he was and that he was a good, caring person and had a big heart," she said.

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