Fortune Smiles On Bombing Survivor

Woman Who Endured Gulf War Strike Wins $250,000 In Mega Millions

August 01, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Marialou Anobas doesn't use the word "lucky" to describe herself because, as she sees it, surviving a hotel bombing and winning the lottery in the same lifetime requires more than just good fortune.

Instead, the registered nurse will simply say somebody has a plan for her life, and the winding road that led her from her native Philippines, to Saudi Arabia, to Kuwait, to the United States, to winning $250,000 in Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing becomes more fulfilling every day.

Anobas was one number away from claiming the $60 million jackpot.

"There is always a reason for everything because it took us 10 years [of playing the lottery] to win," Anobas said. "I could have died and not come to America. But that was not God's plan for me. And maybe I'll keep playing Mega Millions, and God has another plan for me."

She lives in Middle River with her 84-year-old mother and son Michael, 10. Spending $15 twice a week for the Mega Millions drawings has been a tradition for Anobas' family, one she hopes to expand now with her winnings.

For years, she has wanted to bring her sister and aunt from the Philippines to Maryland, reuniting family members separated since the mid-1980s. Anobas, who turns 55 today, went to nursing school in the Philippine city of Cebu before leaving the country to work in Saudi Arabia in 1985.

"We just never had enough money to pay for the placement fee. But I want them to have a life and to know what I'm experiencing now," she said.

For Anobas, what she knows is a fulfilling if sometimes dangerous life over the past quarter-century. She moved to Saudi Arabia with several friends and worked as a registered nurse and civilian employee at a hospital.

Anobas said she relocated there because "that was where the money was," escaping a fairly poor existence in her native country.

Six years later, Anobas was celebrating her birthday in an 11th-floor hotel room in Kuwait when a bomb detonated a few floors above hers, sounding alarms and sending a panic throughout the building. It was the start of Iraq's invasion, and she was essentially held hostage in the bottom of the hotel for nine days before she was rescued by the Philippines Embassy.

Seeking a more stable environment, Anobas moved to New York City in 1993 before relocating to Maryland two years later. Anobas' mother joined her in 1996, and the two decided to move to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1997.

Anobas was working at a hospital near the financial district in Manhattan when two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center towers during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Two days later, she was at Ground Zero administering aid.

"Everything became fresh in my mind again, like I was in Kuwait," she said. "It was traumatic for me because I experienced real war when I was in Kuwait. And then I see the twin towers gone."

She came back to Maryland in 2007 and continued to play Mega Millions, which operates in both states.

Anobas, who works with the elderly at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, will keep her job - and keep playing the lottery. With the winnings, she plans to take her son and mother to the Philippines next year, then Disney World.

She'll pay off her car, put some money away for her son's college fund and bank the rest.

Just as important for Anobas, she will continue to play the drawing by picking birthdays, years of birth, ages, anniversaries and any other number she and her mother deem important. The way her life has gone, Anobas said she wouldn't be surprised if the grand prize was still out there for her.

"I can keep on dreaming big," she said.

The winning ticket was purchased at the 7-Eleven in the 600 block of Compass Road in Baltimore. Anobas is one of two state residents to win the second-tier Mega Millions prize.

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