She moved each limb. They all worked, but her car was another story. She turned the key, but only a sick groan sounded from under the crumpled hood. “Now what?” she said into the frozen night air.
The heater had not kept up with the cold.
The last radio update indicated it was 25 degrees below zero in her hometown of Lengby, Minnesota.
She checked the empty road. “This isn’t good.” Getting home was impossible, but perhaps she could make it to her neighbor’s house.
Cracking open the door, the chill hit her cheeks like a million razors. She stepped out and pulled her wool scarf up. Wanting to cry, but afraid the tears would freeze her eyes, she heaved a shuddering sign and climbed up to the road.
It was so dark. She shut her eyes and opened them again. The minor contrast between the road and fields kept her on course, but how far to his house? Incredible pain bit at her laboring body. Looking ahead at nothing, panic swelled in her tightening chest. I won’t make it. She wanted to run, but with each step, her legs seemed to solidify.
Her arms, wrapped around her body in a protective hold, were nearly frozen in place.
Every step brought sheer agony, but she kept pushing. At last, she could make out a farm light in the distance, but fear screamed it was too far. Even her heart seemed locked in the process of succumbing to the extreme temperature gripping her body.
Her neighbor’s mailbox. Moving only inches with each step, she shuffled down his driveway. Her mind strained against the numbing cold, and only the tiniest bit of recognition pierced through her frosted eyelids. Where’s the house? Fear caught her throat. She squinted harder. A dark shape loomed close. The door should be here. She groped for it, feeling like her arm cracked at the movement. The doorknob. But she could not reach it.
Vertigo tumbled through her confused mind and she crashed sideways. She could not move to get up. No, her mind whispered, too numb to scream.
On the morning of December 20, 1980, Jean Hilliard was found just outside her neighbor’s door. Frozen solid.
Though this is not the actual experience that Jean encountered, the story is true. She was rushed to the hospital, where Dorothy Killian commented, “She was so cold, it was like reaching into a freezer, like picking out a frozen stick of wood. Her face was absolutely white. Just this ashen, death look. We did hook her up to the monitor, and we got this agonal rhythm—like one beat. It was just like one and nothing. Then two. We knew that we had something, but that's a death rhythm.”
The medical team worked with her, but a staff worker, Rosie Erickson, knew a miracle was needed. She says, “I called the pastor of our church and I stated simply that Jean Hilliard from the Lengby area was brought into the hospital in a frozen condition, very critical, and that she needed prayer.”
A prayer chain started at 9:00 a.m., reaching over 30 people who began to pray. By noon, the impossible happened: Jean awoke with full mental capacity, but her legs were black with frostbite. Yet, as her family watched, the black disappeared inch by inch, turning to white. After 49 days in the hospital, Jean left, completely recovered.
Jean credits the doctors and nurses, and also the friends and neighbors who prayed for her. “There are other people across the nation that same night that were found in the same condition I was in. And they died. I just think without all those people that I might not have survived.”
Read more of this miraculous story.
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