A PASSIONATE scuba diver from Symonds Yat who overcame a debilitating brain injury has been nominated for a national award.

James Neal, 49, has been nominated for brain injury charity Headway's Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year Award, for his battle to return to scuba diving after suffering a devastating brain injury.

James said: "When I found out I was a finalist I was lost for words.To hear that I have inspired other people is just seriously cool."

James suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage, a bleed on the brain, just before Christmas 2013. Medics told his wife, Dimple Neal, to prepare for the worst.

He survived life-saving surgery but was left with short-term memory loss, had difficulty thinking logically, making decisions, and being rational.

His inability to filter his thoughts made him blunt, which led to him being forced to leave one of the two diving clubs he attended, however thanks to the support of Cheltenham Sub-Aqua Club and his doctors, James worked his way back into the water.

James explained: "For the first half a dozen dives I was absolutely terrified. 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."

Thanks to his hard work, James is now ranked amongst the top 1% of divers worldwide and works as an elite diving instructor.

He added: "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."

Explaining the difficulties he has faced during his recovery, 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."

James will find out if he has won at the Headway Annual Awards ceremony at London's Dorchester Hotel on December 7.