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Miracle on Ice: Mystery of the Minnesota Woman Who Was Frozen

Jean Hilliard made a full recovery after she was found frozen in sub-zero temperatures in Minnesota.


Back in 1980, an amazing story hit the headlines. A young woman, Jean Hilliard, from Minnesota, was found frozen stiff in the snow. The woman was involved in a car accident at night, and she was trying to seek shelter. After six hours in 22-below-zero temperature, Hilliard was found “frozen solid.” Her body temperature was less than 80 degrees F. She was brought to a hospital and made a full recovery.

Now, Snopes, the hoax-debunking website, says the story is “true” and posted this tweet:

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The website citing one of the first reports of the incident on 30 December 1980 in the Montreal Gazette :

She breathed shallowly two or three times a minute and her heart beat faintly eight times a minute.

Dr. George Sather said that “I thought she was dead, but then we picked up an extremely faint whimper. We knew there was a person existing then.

Jean’s chances of surviving were rated slim — her body temperature didn’t even register on the thermometer, and that meant it was less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

“There was no evidence of a pulse or blood pressure,” said Sather’s brother, Dr. Edgar Sather. “Her body was too frozen to find a vein to get a pulse.”



Ever since, the Snopes claim, with each retelling, the story became more miraculous. Jean Hilliard’s recovery was incredible, they say, maybe even miraculous — The New York Times even quoted Dr. Sather regarded the young woman’s survival as such – but it is not an “unsolved medical mystery” as some claim.

WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, January 27, 1981 Published those facts:

1.    19 year old Jean Hilliard was driving home from a friend’s house when her car skidded on an icy road and careened into a ditch.
2.    It was a remote gravel road but she knew someone who lived nearby and she started walking to his house.
3.    She was afraid if she stayed in the car she would freeze to death.
5.    But his house was farther than she thought and she just kept walking.
6.    Her legs were cold and she was walking against the wind. She was getting more and more tired.
7.    The last thing she remember is reaching the foot of my friend’s driveway.
8.    Jean had trudged two miles in the blustery snow.
9.    It was 1 a.m. when she reached the driveway – and collapsed.
10.   For 6 horrible hours, Jean Hilliard lay crumpled and unconscious in the snow, as the 22 below zero temperatures slowly turned her into a human icicle.
11.    At 7 in the morning, Wally Nelson walked out his front door and found Jean’s frozen body.
12.   “I thought she was dead, ” he said. “Her face was ghost-like.”
13.   Wally loaded his frozen friend into the car diagonally. There was no sign of life.
14.   When they arrived at Fosston Municipal Hospital at 8 A.M, doctors were afraid she would die.
15.   “We couldn’t take her temperature because there was no place I could put the thermometer, ” Dr. George Sather told.
16.   “I couldn’t open her mouth. I couldn’t raise her arm. She was frozen solid, as stiff as a log covered with ice.
17.   “None of her joints were moving, ” Dr. Sather said. “Her eye lids were frozen solid and her eyes didn’t respond to light.
18.   Her skin was too hard to pierce with a needle and even later, when we could get a pulse, she was only getting eight heartbeats a minute.
19.   “She was a frozen stiff, like a piece of meat out of a deep freeze.”
20.   Those who saw her knew only a miracle could save her.
21.   Sather ordered warm, moist packs placed around the unconscious body. Six hours in the freezing winter had actually turned her into a human ice sculpture.
22.   “We held her hand and we keep calling her name, praying for a response, ” her mother told.
23.   “About one o’clock that afternoon she started making noises.
24.   “She asked for water and we knew that a miracle had taken place.”
25.   Later that night. Jean’s hands and arms began to thaw. By the third day, she was able to move her legs.
26.   Dr. Sather said. “I’ve seen a lot of people frozen like that, but I’ve never seen a case where major amputation wasn’t required and I had leveled with Jean and her parents and told them she would probably lose her both legs.
27.   Jean spent six days in intensive care before she was moved to a regular hospital room.
28.   49 days later, Jean left the hospital without losing a single nail.

In an article published in 1981 at Spartanburg Herald , Dr. Richard Iseke said in an interview that it was not unusual for freezing a person to make full recoveries:

The recovery of a Minnesota woman frozen stiff after a nightling ordeal in sub-zero weather was described as a miracle by her doctor. But other physicians say such “miracles” are not all that rare: freezing victims have recovered fully even after prolonged periods without heartbeats.
“There’s a term we have that says no one is dead until he’s warm and dead,” said Dr. Richard Iseke, associated director of the Boston Emergency Medical Center, which every winter treats victims of freezing or, more accurately, hypothermia.

Although Hilliard is undeniably lucky to survive, Iseke said “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.

The human body reacts to extreme cold much like a hibernating animal: internal activity is slowed, which dramatically reduces the cells’ demand for oxygen from the blood.






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