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Nature performs many astonishing feats, yet it is a different matter altogether when we human beings push past the boundaries of normal. It was a viciously cold morning in Lengby, Minnesota, when a man discovered his 19-year old neighbour, Jean Hilliard, lying in the snow.

Her whole body was frozen solid from the night before, when temperatures dropped twenty-five degrees below zero. Apparently, Jean was trying desperately to reach her neighbour for help after her car skidded off the road. When her body was discovered she was immediately sent to the local hospital, where her condition stunned the doctors.

The story of Jean, a woman who made a full recovery after she was found frozen stiff in the snow in Minnesota, has been shared in various forms since it was first published in 1980. And with each reiteration the story has grown more astonishing.

One of the first reports of the incident, which was published by the?Montreal Gazette?on?30 December?1980,?explained?how Hilliard had collapsed on a?22-below-zero night as she tried to seek shelter after a minor car accident. The young woman was found ?frozen solid? approximately six hours later and brought to a hospital:

She breathed shallowly two or three times a minute and her heart beat faintly eight times a minute.?Dr. George Sather said that ?I thought she was dead, but then we picked up an extremely faint whimper. We knew there was a person existing then.

Jean?s chances of surviving were rated?slim ? her?body temperature didn?t even register on the thermometer, and that meant it was less than?80 degrees?Fahrenheit.

?There was no evidence of a pulse or blood pressure,? said Sather?s brother,?Dr. Edgar?Sather. ?Her body was too frozen to find a vein to get a pulse.?

Most of the stories published about Jean Hilliard immediately after the incident credited electric heating pads and oxygen tanks for her recovery, but with each retelling the story became more miraculous. When?Weekly World News?(the same publication has brought audiences fantastically fictional stories about the half-bat, half-human ?Bat Boy? and Hitler?s UFO escape)?published?their version of the story in?January 1981,?quotes from Hilliard?s parents were added that credited her recovery to the power of prayer.

Guide Post Magazine?took this theme a step further,?claiming?that a prayer chain had saved Jean Hilliard?s life:

Mrs. Erickson hurried to her office and made a phone call to the prayer chain chairman at the Baptist church where her husband is pastor. The prayer chain was set in motion.

During the first hours that the prayer chain was underway, Jeans legs and feet, instead of getting darker as Dr. Sather expected, started to lighten and regain their natural colour. One after another, the doctors and nurses filed in to marvel at the pinkish tinge appearing at the line of demarcation where the darkness started on her upper thighs ? the place where Dr. Sather said he thought they might have to amputate.

The prayer chain spread to the nearby towns of Crookston and Bemidji, and into Grand Forks, North Dakota. Soon hundreds, then thousands of people were aware that a young woman had been brought in to the Fosston hospital frozen solid and was in desperate need of God?s miraculous healing.

While some may consider Hilliard?s recovery miraculous (The?New York Times?even?quoted?Dr. Sather?s?deeming the young woman?s survival as such), her story is not rare.

In an article?published?by the?Spartanburg Herald?in?January 1981,?Dr. Richard?Iseke said that it was not unusual for freezing victims to make full recoveries:

The recovery of a Minnesota woman frozen stiff after a night-long ordeal in sub-zero weather was described as a miracle by her doctor. But other physicians say such ?miracles? are not all that rare: freezing victims have recovered fully even after prolonged periods without heartbeats.

?There?s a term we have that says no one is dead until he?s warm and dead,? said?Dr. Richard?Iseke, associated director of the Boston Emergency Medical Centre, which every winter treats victims of freezing or, more accurately, hypothermia.

Although Hilliard is undeniably lucky to survive, Iseke said ?there are numerous case reports in the medical literature of people who have survived (with interior body temperatures) as low as 68 or?69 degrees.

The human body reacts to extreme cold much like a hibernating animal: internal activity is slowed, which dramatically reduces the cells? demand for oxygen from the blood.

Jean was released 49 days later from hospital without losing a single finger, and sporting only minor scars.