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The Mysterious Case of Jean Hilliard Who Recovered After Freezing Solid At -22ºF For 6 Hours

Jean HIlliard, 19 years old, was driving home in the midnight hours on December 20th 1980, in rural Minnesota, when her car skidded off the road. Shaken and alone she was unable to restart the car. With little choice she began to walk to a friends house, Wally Nelson, who lived about 2 miles away. She nearly made it. 15 feet from his door she collapsed from hypothermia. Over the course of 6 hours her body became completely frozen solid in -22 degree temperatures.

image/text credit: Graveyard Shift

Wally found her that morning lying in the snow at 7am. He had to load her diagonally into his car and drove her to Fosston Hospital. Nurse Dorothy Killian was shocked, saying: “… her face was absolutely white, just this ashen, death look.” They hooked her up to the monitor, getting barely a heartbeat. Severely frostbitten her blackened legs wouldn’t move or bend, and a hypodermic needle couldn’t penetrate her skin.

Doctors assessed that even if she could survive she would likely have brain damage and her legs amputated. Dr. George Sather said she was “… just like a piece of meat out of a deep freeze.” They wrapped her in an electric blanket, and she slowly began to thaw.


After two hours her body went into violent convulsions. There was hope, but brain damage was still a possibility… Then Jean regained consciousness and saw her family standing around her. 49 days later doctors were unable to explain how Jean Hilliard walked out of the hospital having made a complete recovery with no permanent damage.