Dr. James R. Higgins, renowned cardiologist, engineer and adventurer, visited Oklahoma Baptist University’s campus April 21, to speak to students of the James E. Hurley College of Science and Mathematics.
Higgins journeyed with his audience through his life story, beginning by focusing on his parents’ upbringing and how their childhood in the Great Depression shaped his worldview. Higgins described how at an early age his parents gave him numerous responsibilities he did not understand the importance of until a much later date.
“When I was a kid, I worked in the grocery store," he said. "Boxing up the groceries for the people who came in, restocking the shelves, etc. As I became a teenager, of course, I thought my dad was an absolute idiot for making me work all of the time when none of my friends did. But I must tell you that the most important thing in my life was my dad’s discipline in making me work in the grocery store. For one, it made me associate with older people, and it also taught me a work ethic I’ve never forgotten.”
Throughout his speech, Higgins continually brought back the focus to discipline. He gave life examples portraying the positive impact of self-discipline in his own life.
Higgins also focused on the personal effects of a devastating car wreck he experienced in his college days and how the car wreck ultimately changed his life philosophy.
“I have the newspaper article in my closet, the one that says, ‘Higgins dies in car accident,’ and I look at that every day. You don’t think that inspires me?” he said.
While deemed ‘dead’ from the car wreck, Higgins miraculously survived, and since the wreck, Higgins has pursued a life of purpose and action, “Ever since that accident changed my life, I made a list of three hundred things I was going to do before I died; I’ve done 2,137 and I have 1,043 left to do because I keep adding to the list; it’s what keeps me going.”
Higgins also challenged his audience to value people and look within before judging a person by what’s visibly wrong on the outside, especially with patients in the medical world, “The mind affects physiology and physiology affects the mind – the most important thing is empathy for the patient.”
Overall, Higgins called the student audience to a life of self-discipline, compassion and a strong work ethic. His life story was a model example to those both young and old.
Higgins was raised in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, and while growing up, he worked for his family’s grocery store, owned by his late parents, Ray and Audrey Higgins. As a young man, Higgins excelled in baseball and basketball, and earned impressive grades that gave him the opportunity to be the first in the Higgins family to attend and graduate from college.
While attending South Dakota State University, Higgins majored in electrical engineering, but a card game against a group of doctors led to a one-of-a-kind invitation which allowed him the opportunity to witness a gall bladder surgery. Such an experience set Higgins on an unforgettable path for a successful and impactful career in medicine.
In the early 1970s, nearing his college graduation, determined to achieve greatness, Higgins decided to hitchhike from South Dakota to the northeastern part of the U.S. to interview at various prestigious medical schools before finally deciding to attend the University of Rochester.
While attending U of R, Higgins said, “I quickly gravitated towards becoming a surgeon and subsequently found that cardiology — and the advances in the field at the time, such as pacemakers and internal defibrillators — tied in well with my background in electrical engineering.” Shortly thereafter, Higgins realized the concepts of engineering were easily translated to the mechanics and circuitry of the heart when using such devices.
Higgins’ expertise has allowed him the opportunity to work with leading engineers to develop patented circuitry and devices, equipping Higgins as a sought-after expert and speaker, and why he is recognized as a renowned cardiologist in the world of medicine to-date.
Higgins has presided over 70,000 medical procedures; he also has lectured across the world, providing him many opportunities to cultivate relationships with other world leading practitioners, politicians, athletes, celebrities and cherished friends.
Higgins is a strong ambassador of “goal setting” and is devoted to achieving every goal he has ever set in his life. Higgins is quoted saying, “I love having goals and doing things I’ve never done before.” For example: in September 2016, at age 67, Higgins successfully reached all 3 summits of Africa’s tallest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro.
In July of 2014, Higgins also achieved his goal of directing his first Hollywood film titled, “Persecuted,” a powerful film on the importance of personal faith, belief and speech. In addition to leading the film as a director, Higgins made his debut in film through his convincing portrayal as President of the United States.
Higgins has practiced in St. Louis, MO, San Francisco, CA and San Antonio, TX, before finally making Tulsa, OK, his home in 1986.
While Higgins has achieved much in his lifetime, his greatest success is his family. Higgins has been married to his wonderful wife Julie for over 40 years, they have 3 sons (Chris, Ryan and David) who are all married, and he and Julie have 4 beautiful grandchildren with a fifth on the way.