It was a viciously cold morning in Lengby, Minnesota, when a man discovered his 19-year old neighbor, Jean Hilliard, lying in the snow. Her whole body was frozen solid from the night before, when temperatures dropped twenty-five degrees below zero. Apparently, Jean was trying desperately to reach her neighbor for help when her car skidded off the road. When her body was discovered she was immediately sent to the local hospital, where her condition stunned the doctors. One of the nurses said that Jean was “so cold, it was like reaching into a freezer” and that “her face was absolutely white, just this ashen, death look.” Jean was also seriously frostbitten, and none of her limbs would bend or move.
The hospital staff did everything possible, yet the situation was dire. Even if Jean were to regain consciousness, she would more than likely have severe brain damage, and she was frostbitten to the degree that both her legs would have to be amputated. Her family gathered in prayer, hoping for a miracle. 2 hours later, Jean went into violent convulsions, and regained consciousness. She was perfectly fine, mentally and physically, although a bit confused. Even the frostbite was slowly disappearing from her legs to the doctors’ amazement. She was released 49 days later without losing a single finger, and sporting only minor scars.
This story circulating heavily online talks about 19 year old Jean Hilliard, who seems to have miraculously survived after being Frozen in snow. The incident is a fact, but has some misinformation. It is a very old one that happened back in 1980.
About the Incident
On the bitterly cold night of 20 December 1980, while temperature was below 22, Jean Hilliard was returning late to her parents’ home near Lengby, Minnesota, when her family car skidded off the road. Clad in her western boots, a coat and mittens, Jean began walking to Wally Nelson’s home two miles away and collapsed just 15 feet from his door. The next morning at 7 o’clock, when Mr. Nelson found her frozen, he loaded her ‘diagonally’ in the back seat of his car and took her to the hospital. The picture that comes with the story does not appear to belong to the actual incident; you can see Jean Hilliard below.
At the hospital, doctors could not give Jean intravenous feedings, as she was frozen too solid to penetrate the skin. Her pulse was about 12 beats a minute, and her temperature was 88 degrees (F), the normal being 98.6 °F. But after several hours of wrapping her in an electric heating pad, Jean Hilliard began to revive. According to Dr. George Sather, who treated the young woman, Jean Hilliard was literally frozen stiff, and even if she survives in worst case, she might have to lose couple of her toes. The doctor called her recovery without any loss a miracle.
Mystery or Miracle?
The Weekly World News magazine edition of 27 Jan 1981 published this story as a miracle outcome of the prayers that took place during the treatment of Jean Hilliard. This incident was also featured in the American television program Unsolved Mysteries in 1996.
It was said that during Jean Hilliard’s treatment, Rosie Erickson, a hospital office worker, called a pastor into the hospital for prayers, and everyone related to Jean did the same. Later, Jean in fact credited her astonishing recovery not only to the doctors and nurses who cared for her, but also to the friends and neighbors who prayed for her. The story became so popular that there came up an interesting legend around the incident, mentioned below:
A person is brought into the hospital completely frozen and assumed to be dead. The doctor taps the body with his pen, declares, “Yup, that’s dead” and the presumed corpse is taken to the morgue before any kids can accidentally get their tongue stuck to it. But that’s not the end of the story — as the body thaws it begins to stir, and eventually rises to its feet and walks out of the hospital as if nothing happened.
Dr. Ryan Kelly, who was called in by Unsolved Mysteries, also stated that the recovery of the frozen girl Jean Hilliard — with just minor scars, and not losing any fingers or toes — was remarkable. However, incidents like these were not rare.
Although the doctors who treated Jean called it her recovery a miracle, there were other physicians saying ‘miracles’ of this kind are not all that rare. As mentioned in a Jan 9, 1981 article of Herald-Journal newspaper, freezing victims have recovered fully even after prolonged periods without heartbeats. There are many recorded cases where people have survived as low as 68 or 69 degrees (F) of interior body temperatures.
This is because human body tries to adapt to the extreme cold; the internal activity is slowed, reducing the cell’s demand for oxygen from blood. In that slow-motion state, even sensitive brain cells can survive for some minutes after the heart has stopped pumping. In the past, a 5 year old who was trapped under the ice of a partially frozen pond for 40 minutes has survived.
The physicians also suggested that frozen victims should not be ruled out dead even if there are no virtual signs of life — and treatments should continue until near-normal temperatures are restored.
Hypothermia is the condition when the body’s core temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and body functions, which is generally considered to be 35.0 °C (95.0 °F). From an article describing ‘Accidental severe hypothermia’ published in PubMed:
Severe hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 28 degrees C. The patient may be unconscious, with such severely depressed vital signs that he appears to be dead. All such patients, regardless of extremis upon presentation, should undergo vigorous cardiopulmonary resuscitation in addition to rewarming, because a reliable determination of death is nearly impossible without the restoration of body temperature.
So, considering the fact that Jean Hilliard’s internal body temperature was 88 °F (around 31 C), her recovery after being frozen in snow is certainly a medical possibility, not a miracle of prayers as such.
Hoax or Fact:
Fact with some misinformation.