Carmelo Mercado was a Queens firefighter from Battalion 49 when the September 11 attacks took place. He was one of the first responders to the scene.
But afterward, a fire department doctor told him that this heroic work—those long hours spent working in the acrid smoke and fire, the collapsed ruins of the World Trade Center—had left his lungs severely damaged. They advised that he retire from firefighting. And so he did, in 2004, after 27 years on the job.
Now that his career was over, Mercado dedicated his life to his 3 children. He even had a fourth, a daughter who is now 10 years old. His health problems continued, and continue, to affect him.
But the devoted father was more than that, too: he was an avid New York lottery player.
This past May, after being urged by a friend who told him that playing the Cash X100 game could bring him luck, he gave it a shot.
He took a look at the next ticket. The batch number was 25, the inverse of his birth year. He considered this a tentative sign, and tried his luck. He scratched the ticket to see a “500”—which was reason to celebrate already—but the ticket wasn't done. Mercado kept scratching as the 0's went on. Finally, he realized that the number read “5,000,000.”
Dazed and disbelieving, hid first thought was
“Holy mackerel, that looks like $5 million.”
His first thought, after it dawned on him that this was more than an optical illusion, was “freedom.”
It's fitting that an American hero be given such a gift, and so close to the 4th of July. It's poetic.
Mercado plans to buy his 10 year old daughter 10 “American Girl” dolls (1 for each year?), and he hopes to take his family on a Caribbean cruise.
"I will certainly help out my family and this year's Christmas presents will be a little bigger than last year's. But I'm really excited to buy a summer house at Disney. We go as a family every year and it will be nice not to have to rent anymore."
But he's pacing himself, he says.
“I'm still in shock.”
“Everything is beautiful now.”