David Swenson woke up with a heartbeat. The sudden feeling of life also confirmed Swenson’s well-being — he had a new heart.
“I was like, wow, this has to be something. My heart has got to be beating, and it hasn’t been for 10 days,” Swenson said.
“That was that. Right then, I had to get my pants on and open up my shorts because it was cold.”
Swenson was in the intensive care unit of a Virginia hospital, awaiting surgery to replace his aortic valve. Every few hours, the nurses and doctors would scan the chest to see if he was still alive.
From that moment to Swenson’s recovery in July 2011, the turning point in his life came when he got an open-heart-surgery-themed scratch-off ticket in the mail from Scratch America, which sent a 10-question card to his home in Maryland.
While the doctors were able to replace Swenson’s aortic valve, they couldn’t get the left side of his heart back to normal due to a severe blood clot, Swenson said.
Many months later, during an emergency room visit to the Sibley Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Swenson, 52, learned that the lottery ticket was a match and that he won $1 million.
“I had no idea,” Swenson said. “I think they must have scanned it and I did have a pulse, but they couldn’t detect that because I’d been unconscious for so long.”
When he spoke with a cashier at Sibley for verification, he was told to come back in another few days.
“After a couple of days passed, I really couldn’t stop laughing,” Swenson said. “I left thinking, ‘I better lose all of the money or be dead soon.’ ”
After a few weeks, he’d already won $20,000.
“I finally got here and realized the whole story. It was all true,” Swenson said.
Not only was he given a new heart, but he was also awarded a large prize because the book isn’t coded to find winners, said Rita Jacobs, public relations manager for Scratch America.
“People who buy scratch-off tickets without having an ID can bring in a copy of their driver’s license and walk away with a prize,” Jacobs said.
Instead of calling Swenson with the good news, Jacobs sent him a thank-you card along with a phone number for the regular office and also reached out to other potential winners.
After a few weeks, another $20,000 went Swenson’s way and he learned that he had won a $1 million prize.
“No one knew who I was at first because I was gone,” Swenson said. “I really believe I won because I had the ticket.”
Throughout the next couple of months, Swenson and his wife did much more than arrive at an office each morning and clock out, so they could check the health of the card in the mail.
“They knew I was sick, so I had to do a lot of things like call doctors to check up on me and ask who the right person was to claim the prize,” Swenson said.
Finally, after a few weeks, Swenson found out that the card had the combination to win a $1 million prize.
“It was such a relief and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to get sick again,’ ” Swenson said.
Swenson and his wife returned to Frederick, where he rented a car, only to be informed that he was the first person who claimed a million-dollar prize since Scratch America began, according to Scratch America.
“It was crazy. I don’t know why I couldn’t have found it myself,” Swenson said.
But that was just the start of Swenson’s good fortune.
In August 2015, he received an aortic valve replacement and a kidney donation. He also bought a new home for his family, and his car.
“I owe everybody the $1 million,” Swenson said. “This good thing, it has taken time. It wasn’t an overnight thing. I owed a lot of people a lot of work to make this happen.”