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How Did Jean Hilliard Survive Being Frozen Solid?

Lengby is a small city in Polk County, Minnesota. Less than 100 people inhabit the town. Despite the small population and a relatively quiet city, did you know that it is known for an accident that led to a mysterious medical case?

Jean Hilliard was driving home on December 20, 1980, when her car crashed into a ditch. She tried walking to her friend’s house in the blistering cold, freezing her alive for six whole hours. She miraculously survived.

How Did Jean Hilliard End Up Frozen on Her Friend’s Front Lawn? 

On December 19, 1980, nineteen-year-old Jean Hilliard went into a local town to meet and spend time with her friends. She and her friends spent the evening at the Fosston American Legion. When they all decided to call it a night, Hilliard hopped into the car she drove, a Ford LTD her dad owned.

Traveling a rural road in Minnesota, Hilliard’s car hit a patch of ice, causing it to slide into a ditch since the car wasn’t built for driving in this condition. After assessing the accident, the young girl realized that it wouldn’t start and she wouldn’t survive the cold if she stayed in the car until morning. Hilliard decided to walk to her friend’s house, just about two miles away. (Source: Hub Pages)

Despite wearing just a winter coat, mittens, and cowboy boots, the young woman reached her friend’s house but tripped and lost consciousness just a few feet away from the door. Her friend only discovered her six hours later. When she was found, Nelson, her friend, remembered finding her frozen solid. (Source: Science Alert)

Hilliard’s body temperature didn’t register on the thermometer. She was completely stiff. Doctors couldn’t lift her arms or open her mouth. Her eyes were wide open but her pupils were not dilating to light. Her skin was even too hard to pierce with a needle. (Source: History of Yesterday)

The Story of Survival

The doctors were on the brink of giving up when they heard extremely faint whimpers from Hilliard. They immediately wrapped her in an electric thermal blanket which slowly thawed her. The doctors then felt a weak pulse and recorded slow, shallow breaths.

Amazingly, Hilliard woke up around noon that day. She immediately asked for water, and when she came to, her immediate thoughts were what her father would think since she had destroyed his car.

Hilliard stayed a few more days in the hospital, where her expectations were set that her legs might be amputated because they froze solid. However, in just three days, the young lady fought and displayed that she could move her legs and arms. On the forty-ninth day in the hospital, she was released from the hospital with no physical or mental damage to her body. (Source: History of Yesterday)

How Did Hilliard Survive?

According to medical experts, Hilliard’s medical mystery is possible. Despite popular beliefs that people die when they get frozen, it is possible that the body would react to the extreme cold like a hibernating animal.

Blood flow slows down as the body cools down, and in effect, less oxygen is needed for the body to continue functioning at a declined rate. Usually, the brain can only withstand three to six minutes without oxygen before any brain damage occurs, but in the case of Hilliard, her body froze before her heart stopped. Her brain was so cold that it only required very little oxygen to survive. The extreme cold also froze her organs, avoiding any lasting damage. (Source: History of Yesterday)

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