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Posted: Friday, August 14, 2009 12:00 am

Local woman in bankruptcy who faced losing home wins life-changing check from Publisher's Clearing House

CALDWELL — The Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol arrived on Stephanie Gornichec's Caldwell doorstep Thursday with a surprise that changed her life: a $1 million check.

Stephanie, 53, and her husband Shaun, 46, plan to use the money to get out of bankruptcy, pay off their creditors and take their house off the market.

"We had filed for bankruptcy last month," said Stephanie, who became unemployed a year ago when the copier company she worked for eliminated her position. "We held on for almost a year."

Shaun works as a truck driver and also maintains an Internet-based travel company. The Gornichecs had their truck repossessed and were on the verge of losing their home.

Hours after the Prize Patrol knocked on her door at 9:30 a.m. — with balloons and cameras, just like in the commercials — Stephanie still couldn't believe her luck.

"Since I've been unemployed last year, I found Publishers Clearing House had discounted magazines and I wanted to keep my guilty pleasure of 'People,'" she said.

On the Publishers Clearing House Web site, she found the sweepstakes, which allows one online entry per day. Playing took a couple of seconds each day, she said.

The Gornichecs haven't decided yet if they will receive the prize in a lump sum or in increments.

Aside from paying off debts and their mortgage, the couple plans to help out their adult children with their student loans and education.

Publishers Clearing House contacted Stephanie two days ahead of the visit to say she was one of 211 people who had won at least $1,000. One person would win the million-dollar prize; the rest would receive $1,000.

"You don't know until there's TV cameras and they're standing at your door with balloons, roses and a million-dollar check," Stephanie said.

Her husband, she said, was beside himself. Stephanie said winning felt amazing. The couple is also experiencing a sense of extreme relief.

"It's so nice to be able to pay your creditors back," she said. "That was an issue we both couldn't stomach."

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