If I had to think of the coldest I have ever been in my life I could narrow it down to three events...
- Basic Combat Training 2012 during a training exercise sleeping outside in temperatures as low as -8 degrees.
- Circa 2013 leaving a house party in the dead of winter in nothing more than a t-shirt. I quickly found myself staring at the stars after I slipped on ice walking down a steep driveway. I was warm and comfortable, it must have been the alcohol talking. I could have laid there forever, and if I did, I might have made the local paper.
- Lastly, ice fishing in the mountains of Colorado.
All these events combined, don't even scratch the surface of Jean Hilliard's story, and the coldest night of her life...
December 20, 1980
The town of Lengby, is located in Polk County, Minnesota and is the home to around 50 people. Yes, 50 people, and I thought my home town was small... If you didn't grown up in a small town, I don't know if you can even fathom what one does for fun? I'll sum it up for you...
A typical small town night usually involves hanging out with your small group of close friends, driving down backroads aimlessly, killing time before eventually making it to the only party of choice or simply returning home.
Jean Hilliard and her group of friends were lucky enough to have a local hangout spot, and on December 20, 1980 they could be found at the Fosston American Legion. The Fosston American Legion at the time was where the "coolest of cool" hung out. I feel bad for the one or two out of like 10 kids who were not considered cool..
At around midnight Jean would decide it was time to hit the road and bid her farewells to her friends before entering the blistering cold -22 degree night. She made her way across the parking lot, and I could only imagine that she was shaking profusely, while she walked in the direction of her fathers Ford LTD. Once she reached the car she quickly jumped in, slammed it into drive and took off across the parking lot, tires spinning as she disappeared into the darkness. Her fathers car was rear-wheel drive with no anti-lock brakes, an absolute nightmare to drive in the winter.
The odds had been stacked against her this fateful night, and while driving down this snow covered treacherous winter road, Jean would lose control of the Ford LTD finding herself stuck in a neighboring ditch. Jean had never felt more alone in the world, than she did that very moment. She knew that she was potentially stranded here alone until day break.
In a last ditch effort, she desperately floored the car in reverse, pleading and hoping that it would find its way back onto the road so she could just make it home. The tires dug deeper and deeper until it revealed the cold hard crust of the earth. All of this effort was to no avail. Jean Hilliard was still stuck in the same spot she started. She screamed out in frustration and proceeded to drive her fists into the cars steering wheel.
Jean threw her body over the steering wheel and hugged the dashboard. She shook frantically as she longed to warm her freezing body. She knew that this source of warmth had a time limit and would not last forever. She needed a plan and had to act fast. What would you do in a situation like this?
Dressed in nothing more than than a pair of cowboy boots and a light jacket, she decided to venture into the bone chilling Minnesota night destined for her friends house "just" two miles away.
When Wally Nelson stepped onto his front porch at 7am the following morning he noticed what he would later call, “a little hunk” of snow, piled on the ground about 15 feet from him. Concerned by this newly found and odd shaped pile, he cautiously approached it. With each step he found his heart beating faster and faster. Until it nearly jumped from his chest when he noticed this pile of snow beginning to take the form of a human body.
Wally would lock eyes with the nights unfortunate victim, he fell to his knees in disbelief. This poor soul was no other than his good friend Jean Hilliard. Her lifeless frozen eyes stared back at him. Wally fearing the worse grabbed ahold of Jean's collar, pulling her onto his front porch. In a panic he hollered out to his girl friend for help. Much like you and I, Wally and his girlfriend assumed Jean had passed and decided they needed to get her body to the local hospital. First they would try to squeeze her into the cab of Wally's truck, but her body was so stiff it would not fit. Eventually they would find room for her in the back seat of Wally's girlfriends car.
A short time after arriving at the hospital in Fosston, doctors and other medical staff would become deterred at the idea of reviving Jean at all. They found that this young woman’s skin was so stiff that a hypodermic needle would break instantly during contact and that her bodies temperature was so low that it did not even register on a medical thermometer.
After learning of Jean’s conditions a single hospital worker phoned the local pastor, letting him know of her conditions. Before they knew it the whole community would be involved in a massive prayer chain, and just like something straight out of a movie, Jean’s body would go into violent spasms a few short hours later. This being the first sign of life returning to her body.
The following day Jean would wake up, displaying no signs of mental or bodily injuries. Her skin that had once been riddled with frost bite, was now completely clear. It was like nothing had ever happened. After 49 days in the hospital Jean Hilliard would make a full recovery. This event would defy everything known about frostbite at the time and keep doctors scratching their heads for the next 40 years. Jean is now married with 3 kids and has never shown any later ill effects following her miracle. Jean along with the local doctors and nurses believe that the prayer chain truly saved her life. What do you think?
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