A PASSIONATE scuba diver whose devastating brain injury ended his career and almost wrecked his marriage, has been shortlisted for a national award.

James Neal’s brain injury drastically 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, he has been named as one of three finalists for brain injury association Headway’s Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year Award.

“When I found out I was a finalist I was lost for words,” said James, who went to school in Chard and Crewkerne, and whose family live in Ilminster.

“To hear I have inspired other people is just seriously cool.”

Days before Christmas 2013, Dimple Neal arrived home to find her husband unconscious on the floor having suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage, a bleed on the brain.

James, 49, was rushed to hospital, where he underwent immediate surgery to stop the bleed. He was not expected to survive the night.

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

He had short-term memory loss, and difficulty thinking logically, making decisions, and being rational.

He could no longer run his business and his marriage was pushed to the limits.

“He quickly became angry, having outbursts I thought would end our marriage,” said Dimple. “The dynamics of our relationship completely changed and we were struggling.”

James’ inability to filter his thoughts made him blunt and direct and he was kicked out of one of the two scuba diving clubs he attended.

James 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 fallout. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.

“My wife is remarkable; I don’t know how she does it. I love her to bits.”

Thankfully, the local sub-aqua club to James, who now lives up the M5 in Cheltenham, were understanding of his injury.

Once given the go-ahead by doctors, they 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 with each other and I’m really grateful they worked together to support me,” said James.

“For the first half-a-dozen dives I was absolutely terrified.

“I would break out in a cold sweat. 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.

“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 now among the top one per cent of divers world-wide, and he is also an elite scuba diving instructor and has found a sense of purpose through helping others.

In September 2017, James organised a 24-hour scubathon with fellow divers to raise awareness of brain injury.

The event was months in the planning, and raised an incredible £8,000 for Headway.

The annual awards are being held on December 7 at The Dorchester Hotel in London.