Jean Hilliard, the miracle girl from Lengby, Minnesota, was frozen, thawed ― and woke up!
Who was Jean Hilliard?
Jean Hilliard was a 19-year-old teenager from Lengby, Minnesota, who was the survivor of severe 6-hour freezing at −30°C (−22°F). At first this story sounds unbelievable but it really happened in rural northwestern Minnesota, United States.
Here’s how Jean Hilliard froze solid in the ice for more than six hours
At the bleak midnight of December 20, 1980, when Jean was driving home from the town, after spending a few hours with some of her friends, she faced an accident that resulted in car failure due to the sub-zero temperature. Eventually, she was getting late so she took a shortcut on an icy gravel road just south of Lengby, and it was her dad’s Ford LTD with rear-wheel drive, and it had no anti-lock brakes. Therefore, it slid into the trench.
Jean knew a guy named Wally Nelson down the road, who was her boyfriend, Paul’s best friend at the time. So, she started walking for his house, which was about two miles away. It was 20 below that night, and she was wearing cowboy boots. At a time, she became totally confused and frustrated to find out her friend’s house. However, after two miles of walking, around 1 AM, she finally saw her friend’s house through the trees. Then everything went black!―she said.
Later, people told her she’d made it to her friend’s yard, tripped, and crawled on her hands and knees to her friend’s doorstep. But her body became so futile in the frosty weather that she collapsed 15 feet outside of his door.
Then in the next morning around 7 AM, when the temperature had already dropped down to −30°C (−22°F), Nelson found her “frozen solid” after being in such extreme cold for six straight hours with her eyes wide open. He grabbed her by the collar and skidded her into the porch. Though, Jean doesn’t remember any of that.
At first, Nelson thought she was dead but when he saw a few bubbles coming out of her nose, he got it that her soul was still living in her frozen stiff body. Then he immediately transported her to the Fosston Hospital, which is about 10 minutes from Lengby.
Here’s what medics found strange about Jean Hilliard?
At first, doctors found Jean Hilliard’s face to be ashen and eyes to be absolutely solid with no response to light. Her pulse was slowed to approximately 12 beats per minute. Doctors did not have high hopes for her life. They said her skin was so hard that they couldn’t pierce it with a hypodermic needle to get an IV, and her body temperature was too low to register on a thermometer. They figured she was mostly dead already. She was wrapped in an electric blanket and was left on god.
The miracle come back of Jean Hilliard
Jean’s family gathered in prayer, hoping for a miracle. Two hours later by midmorning, she 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 doctor’s amazement.
After 49 days of treatment, she amazingly left the hospital without even losing a finger and with no permanent damage to the brain or body. Her recovery was described as “A Miracle”. It seems like god kept her alive in such deadliest condition.
Theories behind Jean Hilliard’s miracle come back to life
Though Jean Hilliard’s come back was a real miracle, it has been suggested that due to having alcohol in her system, her organs remained unfrozen, which prevented any permanent damage to her body in such a fatal condition. Whereas, David Plummer, the professor of emergency medicine from the University of Minnesota put forth another theory regarding Jean Hilliard’s miracle recovery.
Dr. Plummer is an expert at reviving people with extreme hypothermia. According to him, as a person’s body cools down, its blood flow slows way down, requiring less oxygen like a form of hibernation. If their blood flow increases at the same rate as their body warms up, they can often recover as Jean Hilliard did.
Anna Bågenholm – another survivor of extreme hypothermia like Jean Hilliard
Anna Elisabeth Johansson Bågenholm is a Swedish radiologist from Vänersborg, who survived after a skiing accident in 1999 left her trapped under a layer of ice for 80 minutes in freezing water. During this time, 19-year-old Anna became a victim of extreme hypothermia and her body temperature decreased to 56.7 °F (13.7 °C), one of the lowest survived body temperatures ever recorded in a human with accidental hypothermia. Anna was able to find an air pocket under the ice, but suffered circulatory arrest after 40 minutes in the water.
After rescue, Anna was transported by helicopter to the Tromsø University Hospital. Despite she was clinically dead like Jean Hilliard, a team of more than a hundred doctors and nurses worked in shifts for nine hours to save her life. Anna woke up ten days after the accident, paralyzed from the neck down and subsequently spent two months recovering in an intensive care unit. Although she has made an almost full recovery from the incident, late in 2009 she was still suffering from minor symptoms in hands and feet related to nerve injury.
According to medical experts, Anna’s body had time to cool down completely before the heart stopped. Her brain was so cold when the heart stopped that the brain cells needed very little oxygen, so the brain could survive for quite a prolonged time. Therapeutic hypothermia, a method used to save victims of circulatory arrest by lowering their body temperature, has become more frequent at Norwegian hospitals after Anna’s case gained fame.
According to BBC News, most patients who suffer from extreme hypothermia die, even if doctors are able to restart their hearts. The survival rate for adults whose body temperature has decreased to below 82 °F is 10%–33%. Prior to Anna’s accident, the lowest survived body temperature was 57.9 °F (14.4 °C), which had been recorded in a child.