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Weird History: The Woman Who Froze to Death and Survived


Jean Hillard was 19 years old on the night of December 20, 1980when her car ran into a ditch in Lengby, Minnesota. What happened next sounds impossible at first glance, but apparently it's not.

Jean was taking the scenic way home when her car went into a ditch on that bitter winter night. According to The New York Times, it was 22-below-zero. The wind chill factor was minus 70. Worried about carbon monoxide poisoning or being found on the side of the road by a potentially dangerous stranger, Jean decided her best option was to get out of the car and walk to a neighbor's house. Jean later told the television series Unsolved Mysteries (season eight, episode ten) that she was accustomed to that kind of weather in this area and wasn't particularly worried about it. The mile and a half walk took her over an hour.

"I had walked and walked for so long and I finally saw my friend's house and at that point I was just so relieved: there it is. I'm almost there," she explained on Unsolved Mysteries. "And that's the last thing I remember."

According to MPR News:

"Later, people told her she'd made it to her friend's yard, tripped, and crawled on her hands and knees to his doorstep. They said she lay there for six straight hours, with her eyes frozen wide open. Hilliard doesn't remember any of that."

When Jean was discovered at seven o'clock the next morning, her body appeared frozen solid. Her eyes were still open. Wally Nelson, the neighbor on whose property she had collapsed, described her as being "froze stiffer than a board".

Jean was rushed to the hospital, where doctors could not even give her an IV because her skin was too frozen for the needle to pierce. They estimated that she had been like this for about six hours.

One nurse told Unsolved Mysteries that it felt like "sticking your hand in a freezer" to touch Jean's skin. Hospital workers wrapped Jean in a heating pad, but were not optimistic about her chances of survival.


Eventually, however, they began to see signs of life on the monitor. At around 10 o'clock in the morning, Jean started spasming. By noon, she was awake.

Miraculously, Jean went on to make a full recovery. Even her legs, which doctors thought might require amputation, were saved. She lost no fingers or toes. After 49 days in the hospital, she was released.

You can watch the full episode from Unsolved Mysteries here. Jean Hillard's story begins a little after the 2 minute mark.


[Image Credit: photo by Aleksandr Slobodianyk via Pexels]


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