Two-time lottery winner beats life of tragedy

By Diep Phan   July 10, 2020 | 12:47 am PT
Luck smiled on Toan twice at 15, though the money he had made filled his life with misery.

In the early morning, visitors to Phu Cuong Park in southern Binh Duong Province's Thu Dau Mot Town often see a man silently meditating beneath a tree, jogging, or doing a headstand using only his right arm.

"If I hadn't won the lottery twice, I would still have my left arm. I wouldn't have spent a decade hooked on drugs," confessed Do Hoang Toan, 65, who works out daily to prove his commitment to healthy living.

Toan, one of eight siblings, grew up reliant on a small grocery stall set up in front of their tiny family hut.

Toan could drive and carry tables, desks lent to his patrons. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Toan arranges tables and desks lent to patrons. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Having completed primary education, Toan helped his parents run the grocery stall, selling lottery tickets and tobacco, among others. Prior to 1975, with lottery results quickly made known and tickets inexpensive, both Toan and his family members would sometimes retain a few lucky numbers.

In September 1970, he managed to win the jackpot and two consolation prizes, totaling VND3 million. With no ID card, 15-year-old Toan asked his father to travel to Saigon and collect the money on his behalf.

"A civil servant only earned several thousand dong at the time. With VND3 million I could buy houses and cars," he recalled.

Instead of investing the money, the youngster opted for partying with his friends, buying an expensive Japanese motorcycle while on a fun filled trip to Saigon.

"They called me big brother, which meant I had to take care of them, lend them money and hold parties."

With his funds starting to dwindle, luck once more smiled on Toan.

In December 1970, Toan again won the jackpot of VND4 million. Overjoyed, his parents spent VND1 million on the plot of land they had been renting, erecting a prestigious two storey, 50-meter-square house with tiled floors.

"My family moved here from the North after 1975. All we could afford was a small hut. Toan's house was by far the biggest in the then," said neighbor Nguyen Quang, 70.

Considered rich for the time, Toan let his parents manage the winnings, only to disappear with his friends for days on end.

Toan works out in the park. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Toan works out in the park. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Once, while hanging out, a friend gave him a cocaine-laced cigarette.

"I didn't know about the side effects, they simply told me to try it and that I had nothing to lose, who knew I would get hooked," he remembered.

Le Van Nghia, Toan's childhood companion, confirmed Toan started using drugs after winning the lottery.

When Toan was 18, he cohabited with a woman and had a son. Two years later, his addiction had peaked and his money run out.

To fund his vices, the young man became a thief, but got caught. Then, while attempting a jailbreak, he got shot in the left arm. Learning about the incident, his wife grabbed their child and fled.

"Coming home with a disabled body to find my wife and son gone, I had little solace but for drugs, whether by smoking or injection," he said.

"At the time his dependence was severe. Of all the drug addicts in the neighborhood, only Toan had survived," a neighbor recalled.

Sleeping under a bridge, he would beg rice from nearby villages to sell to local restaurants, spending whatever he earned on drugs. At the time, he rarely came home.

In 1986, Toan, aged 31, was injecting thrice a day and "looked like a monster."

Once, attending the funeral of an addict friend, the sight of the lonely coffin placed in the middle of the room made him suddenly think of his own demise.

"Is the death of a drug addict that embarrassing?" he asked himself.

After witnessing another friend inject soy sauce into his veins, later succumbing to addiction, a fearful Toan decided to stop his destructive behavior.

"At the time, I just wanted to live, though it meant giving up on drugs."

Hearing addicts are afraid of water, he locked himself in a room and doused himself whenever withdrawal threatened his resolve. After one month, Toan could safely venture out.

He started earning money delivering up to five water bottles at a time to needy neighbors in an attempt to prove he had been cured.

"No one believed I could give up on drugs, saying they would die if it was true."

Nghia said it took him and several neighbors years to finally believe Toan had gone clean.

"Since winning the lottery, he had acted like a prince, learning nothing. After giving up on drugs, he focused on working, which was a welcome change," according to Nghia.

Thanks to his water delivery job, Toan saved enough money to buy a tricycle to transport other goods. While some charged VND10,000, he only asked VND5,000, fearing no one would hire him due to his disability.

Toans wife (R) works at a electrical supply store nearby, so he cooks and prepare meals for the whole family. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Partner Le Thanh Thuy works at an electrical supply store nearby, leaving Toan in charge of cooking for the family. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

In 1998, after several months spent dating, he married Le Thanh Thuy, 17 years younger than him. After 22 years together, they now have a daughter and son.

"My life is like an arrow. I was pulled back to gain the motivation to step forward," Toan said, adding he is luckier than many of his deceased friends.

He now rents out tables, chairs and cutlery for local events.Toan wants to focus on his family, especially his little daughter, now in grade 7.

According to Nguyen Thanh Son, a local official, Toan's family has provided free sugarcane juice to pagoda visitors during Lunar January in the last four years.

"Toan is not rich, but he has a big heart."

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