May 25, 2018 03:15 PM

Growing up around country music royalty, Hilary Williams knew early on that music would become her way of life. And while she may be the granddaughter of Hank Williams, Sr. and daughter of Hank Williams, Jr., Williams is paving her own path, with a distinct sound, as she releases her debut album, My Lucky Scars.

“Because of my dad and grandfather, ever since I can remember I have always been very into music,” Williams tells PEOPLE. “My dad used to play the guitar and banjo around the house, which piqued my interest of music and as soon as I could talk… I realized pretty early on that music was for me and what I wanted to do with my life.”

It wasn’t until a life-altering car accident in Mississippi rocked her world that Williams discovered her own alternative-country-rock sound and learned the true meaning of allowing “past experiences to shape our sound and our lyrics.”

Hilary Williams
Jim Wright

Holly, my younger sister, and I were driving from Nashville to our maternal grandfather’s funeral in Louisiana and I looked down for a second to change my iPod,” Williams, now 39, remembers. “There were deep ruts on Highway 61 in Mississippi; I hit one and it shifted my truck into the gravel. I lost control, overcompensated…”

A 360 turn and four flips later, the pair of sisters found themselves struggling to get out of a car that bystanders worried would catch fire due to leaking gas. Thanks to the kindness and encouragement from a truck driver, preacher and physical therapist who all stopped to help, along with a fast-acting group of EMTs, Williams and her sister were able to escape. But that was only the beginning.

“They said I shouldn’t have lived over 20 minutes because I lost six pints of blood,” Williams explains. “Before I even got on the helicopter, when I was on the stretcher, my blood pressure was 55 over nothing and that is when I went into cardiac arrest for the first time. I felt like I was drowning in a pool and couldn’t breathe.”

Hilary Williams
Jim Wright

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Williams, who ceased breathing multiple times during initial treatment and face another near-death experience a week later from complications, has undergone 30 surgeries on her path to recovery. The singer had to learn to walk again and credits her physical therapists and team of doctors for her second chance at life.

“[My Lucky Scars] means the scars on my body are God’s saving grace and I am very lucky and grateful to be alive,” she explains of the title of her first album. “They are a reminder every day to serve my purpose while I am here.”

After surviving such a horrific accident, Williams hopes her music will encourage fans around the world to chase their dreams and use adversity to make themselves stronger.

“I just want to give people hope that you can get through anything you put your mind to,” she says. “The scariest and worst times don’t mean it’s the end — there is a reason why these things have happened or are happening. I also want people to know [that] death isn’t scary.”

As for her biggest fan — her father, Hank Williams Jr. — Williams explains his encouragement was a huge factor in finding a way to share her story.

“Both my parents have always been very supportive of me and my dream of putting out music,” Williams said. “They have encouraged me every single day, which I can’t thank them enough for.

“My dad never forced anything on my siblings or me and has always wanted us to find our own voice, which I think is pretty spectacular. But I do think he was pretty happy that I inherited his musical talent.”

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