»Head­ing un­der­wa­ter to rise from the depths

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS - By ROBIN JENK­INS

APASSIONATE scuba diver whose dev­as­tat­ing brain in­jury al­most wrecked his mar­riage has been short­listed for a na­tional award.

James Neal’s brain in­jury changed his per­son­al­ity and turned his life up­side down.

But his pas­sion to scuba dive once again has helped him to turn his for­tunes around.

Now, the 49-year-old who lived in Chel­tenham for 20 years and is part of the Chel­tenham Sub Aqua Club, is in line for an award from brain in­jury char­ity Head­way.

James is one of three fi­nal­ists put for­ward for the Alex Richard­son Achiever of the Year Award.

He said: “When I found out I was a fi­nal­ist I was lost for words. To hear I have in­spired other peo­ple is just se­ri­ously cool.”

His wife Dim­ple found him un­con­scious on the floor just be­fore Christ­mas 2013 af­ter he suf­fered a sub­arach­noid haem­or­rhage, a bleed on the brain.

James was rushed to Bris­tol’s Fren­chay Hos­pi­tal, where he un­der­went im­me­di­ate surgery to stop the bleed.

His loved ones were told to pre­pare for the worst and he was not ex­pected to sur­vive the night.

James pulled through the surgery, but his life was changed for­ever.

He was left with short­term mem­ory loss, had dif­fi­culty think­ing log­i­cally, mak­ing de­ci­sions and be­ing ra­tio­nal. Strug­gling to find his words and over­whelmed with fa­tigue, he could no longer run his busi­ness, and his mar­riage was pushed to the lim­its. Dim­ple said: “He quickly be­came an­gry, hav­ing out­bursts that I thought would end our mar­riage. The dy­nam­ics of our re­la­tion­ship had com­pletely changed and we were strug­gling.” James’ in­abil­ity to fil­ter his thoughts made him blunt and di­rect and as a re­sult he was kicked out of one of the two div­ing clubs he at­tended. He said: “Peo­ple knew I had sus­tained a brain in­jury but be­cause I looked fine, they were un­will­ing to ac­cept that I was strug­gling. “That’s the prob­lem with brain in­jury – it’s a hid­den and fluc­tu­at­ing dis­abil­ity.

“My wife says ev­ery­one else gets nice James, while she’s at work, but she comes home to the fall out. I strug­gle to man­age my fa­tigue and emo­tions, it’s like Jekyll and Hyde.

“My wife is re­mark­able, I don’t know how she does it. I love her to bits.” Chel­tenham Sub Aqua Club were un­der­stand­ing of his in­jury and once given the go-ahead by doc­tors, helped him get back on his feet. “My neu­ro­log­i­cal doc­tors didn’t know any­thing about div­ing, and my div­ing doc­tors didn’t know any­thing about brain in­jury, but I put them in touch and I’m re­ally grate­ful they worked to­gether to sup­port me,” he said.

But get­ting back in the wa­ter wasn’t easy. “For the first half a dozen dives I was ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fied,” he said. “I would break out in a cold sweat.

“Even though it couldn’t hap­pen, I was wor­ried the pres­sure would cause me to have an­other brain bleed.

“But div­ing is my iden­tity. If I couldn’t dive I don’t know who I would be. It was my pas­sion that pulled me through.”

Al­though James lost many of his life skills as a re­sult of his brain in­jury, his knowl­edge of div­ing was still there.

“All of my wor­ries and con­cerns dis­ap­pear as my head drops be­low the sur­face,” he said. “I ba­si­cally go into auto pi­lot.

“As a re­sult of my in­jury, I can only fo­cus on one thing at a time.

“When I’m div­ing I fo­cus on that and ev­ery­thing else is gone. On dry land there are al­ways too many things go­ing on at once and I can’t fo­cus on do­ing any­thing.

“I’m qual­i­fied to dive to depths of 100 me­tres plus, car­ry­ing mul­ti­ple cylin­ders, breath­ing gases that would be deadly if in­haled at the wrong depths.

“But I can’t make a ba­con and egg sand­wich with­out ru­in­ing it, it makes no sense.”

James is an elite div­ing in­struc­tor and has found a sense of pur­pose through help­ing oth­ers.

In Septem­ber 2017 he or­gan­ised a 24-hour scu­bathon with fel­low divers to raise aware­ness of brain in­jury which raised £8,000 for Head­way Gloucestershire. The Head­way An­nual Awards cel­e­brate the ex­cep­tional ef­forts of sur­vivors of brain in­jury and their car­ers.

James will find out whether he has won on De­cem­ber 7. robin.jenk­[email protected]­plc.com

James Neal un­der and, in­set left, above the sur­face

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.