Jean Hilliard, 19, was driving home from a friend’s house one night when she skidded off the icy road and into a ditch. The temperature outside had reached a frosty -22℉.
Afraid that she might freeze to death in the car, Hilliard got out of the car and began to walk down the road to a friend’s house nearby.
But more than two miles away, Hilliard had underestimated how far her journey in the cold would be.
After fighting against the blisteringly cold wind, her legs had grown tired, and she collapsed just 15 feet from her friend’s front door.
It would be another six hours in the freezing temperatures before her friend would discover her body lying face down in the snow.
Around 7 a.m., Wally Nelson was leaving for work when he discovered Hilliard in the driveway.
Nelson was unable to bend Hilliard’s joints, so he quickly loaded her into the back of his car diagonally and took her to the hospital.
“Her face was ghostlike,” Nelson later said as doctors attempted to save her. But they were highly skeptical of her recovery.
Hilliard’s skin was too hard for an IV to be put in, her eyes had no response to light, and her temperature was too low to be taken by a thermometer.
“I couldn’t open her mouth. I couldn’t raise her arm. She was frozen solid, as stiff as a log covered with ice,” said Dr. George Sather.
Hilliard’s family began to send out requests for prayers, and by 9:00 a.m., more than 30 people were praying for her recovery.
Sather and other doctors then decided to wrap her in a warm electric heating pad.
And about two-to-three hours after the thawing process began, they heard something they weren’t expecting: a heartbeat.
Slowly, Hilliard began to make low noises and respond to her parents. Her recovery was slow, with her taking breaths at just 12 per minute.
Miraculously, Hilliard continued to regain consciousness. “Things were kind of hazy and people were asking me questions as to who I am and things like that,” she said.
“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?”
Hilliard still had a long road ahead of her. Her frostbite was so severe, doctors believed that amputation of her legs was inevitable.
But she shocked doctors yet again when her frostbite seemed to just disappear completely.
“It was enough that she survived,” Dr. Ryan Kelly said. “That was a wonderful enough thing. 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 spent six more days in the emergency room before being moved to a normal room. Forty-nine days later, she went home completely unharmed.
Over the years, she has credited her miraculous survival to the doctors and nurses that saved her life, as well as prayers from family and friends.
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