This is a remarkable story. A woman discovered frozen solid in the snow, with the outside temperature dipping fully into the negatives, somehow survived the ordeal. Jean Hilliard was driving home from a friend’s house when she skidded off the road and into a ditch. She got out and started to walk to a nearby friend’s house but the freezing -22℉ air and the two mile journey proved to be more challenging than she initially believed.
She grew tired and collapsed, just 15 feet from her friend’s front door. Her friend discovered her six hours later in the driveway, face down in the snow, when he left for work. Her body was frozen, with her joints unable to be bent, but her friend, Wally Nelson, put her in his car and took her to the hospital.
He later explained, “Her face was ghostlike.” Doctors were not convinced that Hilliard would recover from the ordeal, as her skin was too hard for an IV to be put in. Her eyes didn’t respond to the light and her body temperature was too low for a thermometer to read. Dr. George Sather explained: “I couldn’t open her mouth. I couldn’t raise her arm. She was frozen solid, as stiff as a log covered with ice.”
Her family asked others for prayers in hopes that Hilliard might have some kind of turnaround. The doctors wrapped her in a warm electric heating pad and she began to thaw. Within two or three hours, they heard a heartbeat and she eventually began to make noises in response to her parents.
She was only taking about 12 breaths per minute, but began to regain consciousness. She later recalled: “Things were kind of hazy and people were asking me questions as to who I am and things like that.”
Hilliard continued: “And I couldn’t figure out why they were talking to me that way or why they were treating me that way. Of course, I knew these people. Of course I knew who I was. I mean, what’s the big deal?”
It was amazing that she was coherent, but the frostbite was so severe that doctors believed her legs would have to be amputated. Miraculouly, the frostbite completely disappeared.
Dr. Ryan Kelly said that “It was enough that she survived,” adding, “That was a wonderful enough thing.” He continued, “But to have this added gain of not losing any fingers or toes, and in fact, just having what I guess would be minor scars, this is remarkable.”
Hilliard’s recovery defied all expectations, as she was moved to a normal room six days after spending time in the emergency room; 49 days later, she was able to return home. Hilliard said that the prayers, doctors and nurses were responsible for saving her life.
Dr. Richard Iseke, associated director of the Boston Emergency Medical Center, told the Spartanburg Herald that this occurrence is not that unusual, noting: “There’s a term we have that says no one is dead until he’s warm and dead.” While Hilliard was lucky to survive, the doctor explained: “there are numerous case reports in the medical literature of people who have survived (with interior body temperatures) as low as 68 or 69 degrees.” He attributes the survival to the human body reacting to extreme cold like a hibernating animal.