BLOOMINGTON — Conrad Selle’s sister in France called last Sunday with bad news: If he wants to see his 7-year-old nephew, who is losing a hard-fought battle with leukemia, he should come now.
“It was weighing on my heart,” said the computer systems analyst who still is recovering from being out of work until March. “I had no way to pay for it.”
Then, that night, he won $10,000 in the lottery.
Thanks to what he said must be “a providential thing,” Selle and his son, Lucas, 15, will leave Monday for Paris. Beyond that, Selle hopes his experience will inspire people to pray for a bigger miracle, the healing of his nephew, Matthew Cloche.
Illinois Lottery spokesman Mike Lang said he has seen a lot of prizes awarded in his 23 years with the lottery, but his meeting with Selle when he came to claim the prize Monday at the lottery office in Springfield was “one of the more touching and unique.”
“He clearly felt this was somehow a gift from a higher power,” Lang said. “I was touched by it, by his sincerity and his faith.”
Matthew, the son of Selle’s sister Marcellette Cloche of Fontainebleau, near Paris, has been battling acute myeloid leukemia, which is relatively uncommon and aggressive in children, Selle said. A bone marrow transplant last month didn’t take, and now treatment has shifted to maintaining quality of life.
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On Sunday, Selle’s sister called from a Paris hospital, where Matthew, who was diagnosed in February, was being treated for a lung and skin infection.
That afternoon, Selle was driving home from picking up dinner at Noodles & Company when he felt compelled to buy a lottery ticket. He has played scratch-off games from time to time with no great luck, he said.
So he stopped at a ticket vending machine at Shooter’s Lounge.
“I felt this feeling that I should buy a ticket,” he said. “I put $20 in. Figuring I would lose anyway, I decided to buy just one ticket.”
He chose the $20 Illinois Millions game, which has a top prize of $4 million. The odds of winning $10,000 are 1 in 40,000, lottery officials said.
Sitting alone in his kitchen after his family went to bed, he scratched off the 32 boxes. There it was: a match for winning No. 18 — Lucas’ birth date — and the amount of the prize.
He was elated by winning, but he found it was hard to share the good news.
He woke up his wife, Courtney. “I yelled; I won $10,000! She said, ‘No you didn’t. Go back to bed!’”
Lucas’ reaction: “When he told me, I thought ‘No way. It was a fake ticket.’”
Selle and a neighbor went to Springfield where lottery officials gave him a check for $7,000 — 25 percent is withheld for federal taxes and 5 percent for the state. Of the proceeds, $2,800 went for the airline tickets for Selle and his son.
His wife will stay home with their other children — Dalton, 13, and Claire, 11 — a dog and “two or three cats.”
Selle, who works at State Farm Insurance Cos., said he is grateful for support from family, friends and co-workers, but the sadness of his nephew’s illness was getting to him.
The lottery win changed that.
“I was losing hope, but now I have a second wind,” he said. “God is taking care of us; he knows our needs. Now I am praying for another miracle.”