A hunch that something was wrong made Killarney, Man., lab technician Tina Dubyts turn her car around Monday morning when she was on her way to work.
That decision may have saved the lives of Kristen Hiebert, 26, and her four-year-old daughter, Avery.
"I didn't actually see anything, but something got my attention," Dubyts remembered on Wednesday.
As Dubyts headed back toward Dunrea, Man., at about 7 a.m., she saw a visibly injured Hiebert trying to climb a guardrail.
The Boissevain mother and her daughter had spent 10 to 12 hours freezing in a ditch after Hiebert's car slid off Highway 23. The car wreck was not visible from the road in the dark — the sun had set at 5 p.m. the previous evening and didn't rise until after 8 a.m.
When Dubyts saw Kristen, she was wearing only socks, blue jeans, a hoodie and a jacket. Dubyts remembers Kristen's hair and clothing were white with frost, and her hand was clearly frostbitten. Dubyts checked her car's thermometer and it read –19 C outside. Overnight temperatures had fallen below –25 C, according to Environment Canada.
"She was in shock. She was obviously frozen," said Dubyts. "She just kept talking about her daughter."
Child found lying in snow
After calling for help, Dubyts flashed her phone's light down into the ditch to see where the child might be. The first thing she saw was Hiebert's car.
"All I said to 911 was 'I think we need the Jaws of Life,' because I didn't think that little girl was going to be alive in there," said Dubyts.
But the four-year-old was alive. Dubyts found her curled up in the fetal position near the spot where a passenger-side tire once was.
Dubyts picked Avery up and climbed out of the icy ditch. She wrapped the girl in a blanket and placed her in the back seat of her car.
Another driver who stopped, a nurse from Brandon, helped comfort Avery as Dubyts and two men who also stopped carefully lifted Kristen into Dubyts' car to wait for firefighters from Ninette and STARS air ambulance to arrive.
Kristen, Avery recovering at HSC: sister
Hiebert's arms were broken, and she suffered a cracked rib as well as frostbite on her knees, lower legs and feet.
Avery only had scrapes and frostbite on one foot, said Mikayla Hiebert, Kristen's younger sister, who fought back tears as she talked about the crash on Wednesday morning. One of Avery's boots was lost during the accident.
With few cars passing by, Hiebert had kept her daughter warm overnight by lying on top of her, said Mikayla Hiebert.
"Her mom did an amazing job," Mikayla said.
"She's the hero. I don't know how she went through all that pain," Dubyts said about Hiebert.
"She had the will to live, that girl."
Hiebert and Avery are recovering at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. Mikayla expects both will be there for some time.
Morgan Campbell, a longtime friend of Hiebert, created a GoFundMe page for the family, the Kristen and Avery Recovery Fund. So far, it has raised more than $15,000.
"You can't make her bones heal for her, but you want to … ensure that the support is there for her to recover," Campbell said.
She said as of Wednesday afternoon, Hiebert was in stable condition in hospital.
"Her voice sounds a bit weak, but she was in high spirits," Campbell said of her friend.
"I told her about the gofundme page and she seemed a bit overwhelmed with emotion, as we both were. It's hard to hear your friend in pain."
A previous version of this story said Kristen Hiebert's accident occurred along Highway 18. RCMP confirm it was along Highway 23.Jan 20, 2016 11:50 AM CT