A group of more than 100 nurses who won a $10,000 lottery jackpot decided to change the lives of two of their colleagues instead of taking the money themselves.
The nurses, who all work in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) at Mercy Children’s Hospital St. Louis in Missouri, split their $7,200 post-taxes earnings between a nurse who recently lost her teenage son to suicide and a neonatologist whose husband is battling cancer.
Had the nurses each taken their share of the October Mega Millions win, they would have each received around $50.
“We thought right away that this [money] wasn’t going to make us or break us and it was money we didn’t have before,” said Stephanie Brinkman. “We needed to help somebody.”
Brinkman, a Mercy NICU nurse for 12 years, organizes the unit’s lottery pool each time a Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot starts to reach hundreds of millions of dollars. The group has never before won more than $20.
"It’s completely unbelievable and I think it happened for a reason so we could help [our colleagues] in need," said Brinkman.
Helping a nurse grieving her son's suicide
A nurse who contributes each time to the NICU's lottery pool is Gretchen Post, who has worked at Mercy for 28 years.
On Oct. 23, the same day the nurses won $10,000 in a $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot drawing, Post’s teenage son, Jack, committed suicide. She found out that her coworkers in the NICU were donating $3,600 to her just as she was planning her son’s funeral arrangements.
The money, she said, helped to pay for Jack’s funeral.
“It really was a relief,” she said. “I’m very grateful. I know our unit always stands by each other.”
Post said the donation from her coworkers took on special meaning because Jack, who had just turned 17, was a very giving person.
“He would think it was really cool [and] he would have wanted to give it away too,” she said. “He was this simple kid who never wanted anything, never asked for anything but he was so giving himself.”
The money is now also helping Post, who has two other children and has not yet returned to work, with her recovery.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, especially going into the holidays,” she said. “I just want something to come out of my son’s death so I will also [work to] spread suicide awareness.”
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Giving a family support for cancer treatment
The Mercy NICU team member who received the other half of the lottery jackpot said she was praying about her husband's cancer treatments when she learned of her colleagues' generosity.
"I knew it was God answering my prayers," said Dr. Casey Orellana, a neonatologist who has worked at Mercy for 11 years.
Orellana's husband, Phil, also a doctor, was diagnosed in February with sarcoma in his hip. In July the family learned that the cancer had spread to Phil's lungs.
"He’s had most of the treatments that are available here in the U.S. so we’ve looked around the world for treatments," said Orellana. "It’s required us to travel and pay for things insurance doesn’t cover."
The Orellanas, the parents of four children, have been largely unable to work since July. The $3,600 donated by the NICU nurses has allowed the family to pay for expenses related to Phil's treatment, according to Orellana.
"I was surprised that they won the lottery but I wasn’t surprised they were being so generous and amazing because that’s just who they are," she said of her NICU colleagues. "We’ve just had so much support from everyone at Mercy and in the NICU. They’ve all along the way brought food and been there for conversations and hugs."
When asked if the Mercy NICU nurses plan to continue playing the lottery, Orellana, Brinkman and Post all said "yes" in unison.
"Our job is pretty stressful so the lottery is just one of the fun things we can do to bring some camaraderie to our unit," said Post.
"We have a very strong bond and I think this just goes to show that we’re always here for each other, no matter what," added Brinkman. "We hope stories like this encourage others to spread kindness and love."