40 Years Ago, a Woman Famously Survived Being ‘Frozen Solid’. Here’s The Science

Cortez Deacetis

Early one particular New Year’s Eve morning in Minnesota, back again in 1980, a person named Wally Nelson stumbled throughout the body of his buddy, lying in the snow just a few meters from his doorway.


Nineteen-yr-previous Jean Hilliard’s automobile experienced stalled although returning to her parents’ property soon after a night time out. Dressed in little more than a wintertime coat, mittens, and cowboy boots, she established out into the minus 30 Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit) evening air to find her friend’s assistance.

At some stage, she tripped and dropped consciousness. For 6 hrs, Hilliard’s physique lay in the cold, warmth draining absent to depart her – by numerous accounts – “frozen solid”.

“I grabbed her by the collar and skidded her into the porch,” Nelson would report several years afterwards in a Minnesota Community Radio interview.

“I imagined she was dead. Froze stiffer than a board, but I observed a handful of bubbles coming out of her nose.”

If not for Nelson’s prompt reaction, Hilliard could have just come to be one of the thousands of fatalities chalked up to hypothermia every single 12 months. As a substitute, her tale has become a portion of healthcare lore and a scientific curiosity.

How could a physique survive becoming frozen good?

Stories of folks surviving freezing temperatures are unusual ample to be newsworthy but usually are not precisely scarce both. In truth, health care experts in chilly climates have a stating: “Nobody is lifeless right up until heat and dead”.

The realization that severe hypothermia isn’t essentially the end of a existence has turn out to be the foundation of treatment in by itself. Below managed situations, decreasing overall body temperature can neat down the metabolic rate and cut down the body’s insatiable starvation for oxygen.


In healthcare options, or on exceptional instances somewhere else, a chilled body can place the brakes on the entire dying approach very long ample to deal with a very low pulse, at minimum for a whilst.

Wherever Hilliard’s account stands out is the extreme character of her condition of hypothermia.

Overlook the fact her human body temperature was hardly 27 levels Celsius, a full 10 levels underneath that of a healthful human. She was – seemingly – frozen. Her experience was ashen, eyes good, and her skin reportedly much too challenging to be punctured by a hypodermic needle.

In the terms of George Sather, the physician who taken care of her, “The entire body was cold, absolutely reliable, just like a piece of meat out of a deep freeze.”

But within just a handful of hrs, warmed by heating pads, Hilliard’s overall body returned to a state of wellbeing. She was talking by midday, and with very little far more than some numb, blistered toes, was soon discharged to are living an unremarkable existence unaffected by her night time as a human popsicle.

To good friends and relatives in her community, it was all many thanks to the electrical power of prayer. But wherever does biology stand on the make a difference?


Unlike numerous components, h2o takes up a higher quantity as a reliable than it does as a liquid. This expansion is negative information for physique tissues caught in the cold, as their liquid contents risk swelling to the issue of rupturing their containers.

Even a couple of stray ice crystals blooming in the completely wrong area can pierce mobile membranes with their needle-like shards, lowering extremities to blackened patches of useless pores and skin and muscle mass, or what we usually know as frostbite.

Some animals have progressed some nifty diversifications to deal with the risks of sharp, increasing ice crystals in sub-freezing problems. Deep-sea fish regarded as Antarctic blackfin icefish generate glycoproteins as a form of purely natural antifreeze, for occasion.

The wooden frog turns the contents of its cells into a syrup by flooding its system with glucose, as a result resisting freezing and dehydration. Exterior of their cells, water is free to convert into a good, encasing tissues in ice and creating them search, for all purposes, as strong as frog-formed ice cubes.

Without having everything extra to go on than external observations, it truly is challenging to say for positive how Hilliard’s body withstood remaining frozen. Was there some thing unique about her body chemistry? Or even the make-up of her tissues?


Maybe. A significantly additional critical concern is what just ‘frozen’ implies in this scenario. While lower, Hilliard’s main physique temperature was reportedly continue to considerably above freezing. There’s a environment of change concerning a metaphorical ‘chilled to the bone’ and literal solidified drinking water in the veins.

The truth Hilliard’s entire body felt strong is a typical indication of critical hypothermia, as muscle rigidity will increase to this kind of an extent, it can even resemble rigor mortis, the stiffening that happens to a useless body.

That the surface of her human body was cold and white, and even her eyes appeared glassy and ‘solid’, may possibly also be significantly less than astonishing. The human body will close off channels to blood vessels beneath the pores and skin to continue to keep organs functioning, to the place a overall body will glance ashen and continue being remarkably cold to the touch.

For health care staff persistent ample to check out their luck utilizing a more compact gauged hypodermic on greatly constricted veins, particularly if they’re protected by slender layers of dehydrated skin pressed limited in opposition to rigid muscle tissues, we may possibly even visualize a bent needle or two could final result.

With minor to go on other than a couple shocked accounts, we can only speculate no matter if Hilliard’s ‘frozen’ system was common, if stunning, or in fact strangely exclusive in its means to endure this sort of an extreme change of state. There can be no doubt, having said that, that she was fortunate.

The a lot more we discover about the amazing points the human system can attain, the less we may possibly rely on superior fortune to conserve life like hers in the foreseeable future and much more on advances in drugs and immediate responses.


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