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Woman suffers only minor frostbite in six-day ordeal in snowy California mountains

A woman who was trapped in the Sierra Mountains for nearly a week survived by seeking shelter inside a hollowed-out tree and eating tomatoes and snow. KCRA-TV's Sharokina Shams reports.

A Nevada woman was found by her brother shivering in a hollow tree this week after having survived for six days on tomatoes and snow in the wintry Sierra Nevada in California, relatives and authorities said. Her boyfriend died during the ordeal.

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The woman, Paula Lane, 46, of Gardnerville, Nev., was described Friday as in stable condition with only minor frostbite at Carson-Tahoe Hospital in Carson City, Nev. Her doctor said she could go home as soon as Sunday.

"She was one very lucky person," said Dr. Vijay Maiya, who treated Lane after she was found Wednesday night by her brother, who had set out in the snow to look for her against his family's advice.

Lane and her boyfriend, Roderick Clifton, 44, of Citrus Heights, Calif., had diverted from their trip home to go four-wheeling in Clifton's Jeep on Nov. 29 when they got stuck in a snowdrift in Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe, according to Lane's family and Alpine County, Calif., sheriff's deputies.

Clifton left to seek help, they said, while Lane stayed put. But he never returned.

After a few days, Lane decided that she was on her own and set out on foot. As she hiked toward the highway, she found Clifton's body in the snow. She later took shelter in the well of a hollowed-out tree as another snowstorm moved through the area. 

Lane's brother, Gary, found her off State Route 88 in Hope Valley. Their sister, Linda Hathaway, said she'd advised him not to risk it, "but he's going to do what he's going to do," she told NBC station KCRA of Sacramento, Calif. 

Reunited at the hospital Thursday, "I gave her the biggest kiss I could without hurting her," Hathaway told reporters through tears Thursday.

"It's so hard as a family to sit there at home, waiting to hear news if they're gone or if they went over a cliff or somebody abducted them," Hathaway said. "You don’t know. Your mind plays so many things." 

Clifton's daughter, Mariah Clifton, said she still couldn't quite believe her father hadn't made it.

"I kept thinking he was going to call and be like, 'Hey, call off all these news reporters and police officers. We have the car covered in leaves because I don't want another speeding ticket,'" she told NBC station KCRA of Sacramento, Calif.

KCRA: Woman saved by brother; man dies in Sierra

Rescuers said they had to use snowmobiles to get to Clifton's body. When they found the Jeep, it was buried under new snow.

Lane, however, had been remarkably lucky, having gotten out of the vehicle just in time, and with just enough supplies.

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"Before they went on their excursion, they had stopped by some family members' houses and apparently, they had gotten some tomatoes. She sustained herself on tomatoes and snow," Maiya said Thursday at the news conference at the hospital.

"Her toes were a little on the bluish side for lack of oxygen," but "they've re-warmed nicely, and she's doing well," he said, adding that Lane could be home with her 11-year-old twin children by the end of the weekend.

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