Things were falling into place. Last year, Dusty Higgins, a 2002 Oklahoma Baptist University music education graduate, completed his master's degree at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. His future plans included being a member of an orchestra and teaching music.
He was enjoying the summer at home in Tecumseh, Okla. In August, he was going to be playing at a church camp in upstate New York. The week before his departure, he and his friend Brandon Chambers decided to take a one-day road trip to Texas in his new truck.
After stopping for gas in west Texas, the two were back on the highway. Minutes later, a car crossed the median and headed straight for the truck.
Investigators concluded the other driver, who did not survive, fell asleep at the wheel. Chambers spent a week in the hospital mending a broken arm.
Higgins struggled to stay alive. The accomplished musician's career plans were in doubt.
"If I wasn't airlifted to the hospital in Fort Worth, I probably would not have survived," he said, noting that Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital is one of the top medical centers in the country specializing in trauma care.
Over a period of six months, he experienced 19 surgeries to repair multiple fractured bones in his body. Most of the surgeries occurred while he was in a 45-day coma.
In early November, Higgins regained consciousness. He remembered his first thoughts were that something was bothering his ears.
"I felt something touching my left ear, and the same thing was bothering my right ear," he said. "Then I realized it was my hair. I never had it that long."
Thankful to be alive, Higgins was able to move his left side, though he could not walk. But he greatly appreciated that he still had his ear for music.
"I could listen to music and tell what key it was in and what the cords being played were," he said. "Thankfully, my ear wasn't affected, which is my greatest musical gift."
While progress was made after the surgeries, doctors told the trombone player that chances were slim for him to regain full use of his right arm.
"An arm specialist told me that I would never bend my right arm beyond a 90-degree angle," he said. "But after going through physical therapy three times a week for three months, I've regained full motion in my arm. It's not moving perfectly, but I am able to play comfortably."
Higgins believes he is back to his "usual self," with some interesting additions.
"I think I'm the same guy with some cool scars," he said.
Though his plans have been delayed and have somewhat changed, Higgins continues to pursue his musical aspirations. In May, he sat in with OBU's Bison Jazz Orchestra in the group's final concert of the school year.
Higgins is now a high school band director in Walters, Okla. This summer he is going to fulfill last summer's opportunity of playing in an orchestra for a Christian camp in New York.
Reflecting on how the experience has affected him, Higgins said that he regrets how the accident and long recovery affected his family and friends. He believes they were in a more difficult situation than he was.
"I don't say this flippantly, but I know it was harder on them than it was for me," he said. "My parents were told that I wouldn't live through the night, and I know it was a struggle for many of my friends. But for me, I just took a long nap."
He also knows the experiences have given him a deeper perspective of what God wants to do in his life.
"I look at it this way. Before the accident, I knew God. Since the accident, I have experienced God," he said. "I know God kept me on this earth for something far greater than entertaining people with my trombone and my guitar. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm sure music will be a part of it because that's a part of who I am."