To say it's been a rough year for Jennifer Winn and her family would be quite the understatement.
Jennifer, a wife and mother of two boys in Oklahoma, has seen it all the last 12 months. In addition to trying to make ends meet as a working mom of two boys while balancing her home life, the Winn family was thrown an additional curveball last winter. Her husband, Kenneth Winn, was in a motorcycle accident years ago which not only left his ankle severely broken, but also required several additional leg surgeries over the years. Finally in December, the family was faced with the agonizing decision: another series of surgeries or amputation of Kenneth's lower left leg.
They opted for amputation because it gave Kenneth the best shot at a higher quality of life without pain. But unfortunately, the pain was just beginning.
While Kenneth was recovering from the surgery in his hospital bed, his manager called him and told the U.S. Navy veteran he was being laid off from his telecommunications position. That left Jennifer, who works as a florist, as the sole breadwinner while Kenneth faced two months of recuperation before he'd be ready for his prosthetic leg. However, at the end of those two months, all that was waiting for him was a staph infection.
Kenneth is now in his fifth month of recovery and still has not been well enough to start getting used to his prosthetic. For Jennifer, that meant five months of getting up at 5 a.m. to bring the kids to separate schools, go to work, drive to Kenneth's hospital appointments 100 miles from home, pick the kids up, make sure they get to their jobs and extracurricular activities, and keep the household in order.
But meanwhile, despite having insurance, the medical bills piled up and money ran low. Jennifer and Kenneth had to borrow money from their parents just to get by while important car and home repairs were put off due to lack of funds. Kenneth had lost his leg, his job and was growing increasingly despondent about placing all the burden for his care on Jennifer and his two kids.
All while he watched helplessly from the couch.
"She did it all and it pretty much all falls on her," Kenneth said. "She hides it well but it has to be exhausting and frustrating for her. But she never lays it back on me or complains to me because she doesn't want to worry me or stress me out while I'm healing."
Because doctors told Kenneth to limit his physical activity, he didn't have much to do all day. And that's when he saw Kathie Lee & Hoda's Mom of the Year Contest with Salary.com advertised on NBC last month. Although he knew Jennifer was more than worthy of the prize, he said he dismissed the thought of entering because "who ever really wins those things?" But a week later -- on the last day the contest was open -- he saw it again. This time something clicked.
"I thought 'I'm sitting here on my rear end doing nothing, it's just pure laziness not to at least try,'" Kenneth said.
A week later he found out Jennifer was a finalist and the whole family would be flown to New York City to be on the show for a chance to win $112,962 -- the amount Salary.com calculated a stay-at-home mom would earn if she were paid for all the work she does around the house and with the kids. Except he decided not to tell Jennifer about the money because he didn't want to get her hopes up only to lose.
Turns out that wasn't an issue.
On Thursday -- with her family standing behind her on live national television -- Jennifer was handed an envelope along with two other finalists for Mom of the Year. Until that moment, she knew absolutely nothing about a cash prize. But when she opened the envelope and realized she just won nearly $113,000 from Salary.com, she couldn't hold back the tears.
"This is just such a huge blessing for my family," Jennifer said. "It's been such a rough year with the amputation and Kenneth losing his job, but this definitely improves the situation for us. You always see people who win these things on TV but now I know it can happen because it happened to me! This is the best Mother's Day."
Kenneth was also emotional and called Jennifer the "mother of a lifetime." He said the family will use the money to pay off debts, save for college, make necessary house and auto repairs and -- if there's enough left over -- go on a little family vacation. He said he was still in shock that a couple of hundred words sent to a New York City television show could have such an enormous impact on his life, but was eternally grateful for the cushion this money provides his family.
The only question now is how he will top $112,962 next year on Mother's Day.
"I figure I probably don't have to do anything for at least 10 Mother's Days now," Kenneth joked.
Watch the video of Jennifer Winn being named Mom of the Year on Kathie Lee & Hoda below: