Donna Molnar's condition has improved from critical to serious in a Hamilton, Ont., hospital after spending three days buried in the snow.

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Donna Molnar. ((Courtesy CHCH))

Her family is calling her rescue "truly, a Christmas miracle."

For 72 hours, the 55-year-old mother from Ancaster lay in the snow.   

She had left home on Friday afternoon to pick up some baking supplies, just as a snowstorm was hitting the region. 

When she didn't return home, her husband, David Molnar, called police. 

"I wasn't all that concerned for the first few hours because I just assumed that she went shopping," he told CBC Newsworld in an interview. "But when she didn't return around dinnertime — five or six o'clock, I think — is when I called the police and even then I just said, 'Look she's gone, I'm a little worried because of the weather. Can you see if you can locate her, or whatever.' " 

Hamilton police Staff Sgt. Mark Cox said the rescue teams didn't hold out much hope of finding Donna Molnar alive. The search, he said, couldn't have come at "a worse time."

"We probably had 50 centimetres of snow in this area this weekend," he said.  "The winds were howling at 80 km/h while the searchers were out on the ground." 

Unable to help herself

An officer on patrol spotted her SUV at Lindley's Farm and Market on Fiddler's Green Road on Saturday evening and called it in. 

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Donna Molnar is carried into rescue vehicle on Monday. ((Courtesy CHCH))

Search teams didn't know she was just a few hundred metres away, buried under 60 centimetres of snow and unable to help herself. The nighttime temperatures dropped to around –15 C. 

Then on Monday, volunteer Ray Lau brought his dog, Ace, into the search. Within minutes, Ace found Molnar in the snow.

But Lau wasn't sure of what the dog had found, especially since it was Ace's first search.

"It looked like a flat field," said Lau. "He was barking away. I came up to see what he was barking at and it all came together. I was shocked as much as I was happy." 

Cox said although Molnar's face was exposed, she had her hood pulled up, a warm coat and her hands and neck were covered — and that probably helped her to stay alive.

"She was in two to 2½ feet [60 to 76 centimetres] of snow when we found her. And the fact that she wasn't moving around [and] losing body heat as quickly, that's probably what helped her," he said.

David Molnar said his wife was conscious and talking when she was found.

'Quite extensive frostbite'

"When the handler found her, she was asking some questions, such as what day it was, what time it was, where her purse was. So, and she continued communicate with EMS workers on the way to the hospital ... but again she is not now awake," he said.

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Ray Lau's rescue partner, Ace, found Donna Molnar. ((Courtesy CHCH))

He hasn't been able to speak to his wife. Once in hospital in Hamiton, doctors sedated her.

"They're treating her and trying to assess the damage," her husband said. "She has quite extensive frostbite and was hypothermic when they found her.  But, you know, she's in a better place and she's no longer alone." 

By Wednesday, Donna's condition had improved. Her body temperature has returned to normal, but doctors are still anxious about damage that may have been done to her organs. 

They also warn she has a long way to go before she is out of danger. 

It's not clear how Donna Molnar came to be in the field covered in snow. 

But Cox says a possible explanation is that she became disoriented in an area known for whiteout conditions.

David Molnar described the 72-hour ordeal for himself and the couple's 20-year-old son Matthew as "brutal" and "emotionally taxing."

But when police arrived at the door on Monday afternoon to say she had been found alive, he said that mood turned to "elation." 

"My personal, sort of, take on things, for what it is worth, is that the reason she is still alive is that God reached down to her, cradled her until they found her," he said.