The happy-go-lucky Redcar lad had a good job working for Vesuvius at Corus and a wonderful life, surrounded by loving family, including dad John and mum, both 66.
But one night, in 2006, tragedy struck when he unexpectedly suffered a fit while watching TV.
He was rushed to hospital and doctors explained he had been suffering a series of “mini-strokes” days before the fit.
Now 33, James, who lives with his mum and dad who provide care for him every day, is still on a very long road to recovery.
However, with a smile he tells of his determination to “walk independently with a stick,” after reaching the exciting milestone of taking his very first steps along Redcar seafront.
He explains: “For a couple of days before the stroke, I’d had a bad head. Friends had noticed I’d taken a lot of headache tablets.
“After the stroke, I wasn’t able to do the things I could before, going to work, driving a car.”
James’ speech suffered and he was unable to walk, as he spent a year in rehabilitation at James Cook University Hospital.
Once home, he remained uncharacteristically shy and quiet, as his mum and dad cared for him round the clock.
However, his life began to change for the better again, when he met Karen Jones, a communication support co-ordinator for the Stroke Association in South Tees, and other support workers.
With their help, he began setting goals to improve his speech and walk again and benefited from speech therapy and social sessions with other stroke survivors.
Five years on, he has reached his first significant goal of walking along Redcar seafront and in the Stroke Activity Improvement Group he now attends at Southlands Centre every Thursday.
Karen laughs: “He’s so different to when he first came to us five years ago. It’s hard to believe he was so shy now. Soon, he was the joker of the group. To see how far he has come is just fantastic. I’m chuffed to bits for him.”
James’ condition meant he has had to build up gradually to walking again.
The first big milestone came when he began by walking on a ramp outside the home, supported by his dad, before building up to the trip to walk along the new seafront at Redcar for the first time, with the aid of a rail.
Karen said: “It was always James’ goal to walk again.
“I remember when he set that goal. When I saw him walking, it brought a lump to my throat.”
It was also a big boost for James - who “loves being outdoors” - to be able to take in the new seafront for the first time on foot.
He said: “It was good to get up off my bum. If I can do some exercise I will. It was nice.
“I like being outside. I can walk down by the beach near The Stray where the paddling pool is.”
Karen said: “He’s so inspiring to others in the group. He walks along the wall at the Southlands Centre and there are others who have been in wheelchairs who are now starting to do it as well.
“He’s started taking the first steps to walking independently again. We’re really proud of him.”
Support is out there for people in same situationThe Middlesbrough Stroke Activity Improvement Group, attended by James, runs from the Southlands Centre, Middlesbrough, every Thursday, from 1pm until 2.30pm.
It provides health related activities to help improve mobility and wellbeing.
Speaking of the local groups and services on offer for stroke survivors across Teesside, Karen says: “We offer support for people who have gone through the same as what James has gone through.
“After a stroke, a lot of people don’t think they can talk and go inside themselves a bit. But the groups bring people out of themselves.
“We are really looking to rebuild people’s lives and show there’s life after stroke.
“Once people realise they still have a voice, whatever communication problem they might have, they can develop from there.”
An information, support and advice service for Stroke survivors and their carers operates from Carter Bequest Hospital, Cambridge Road, Middlesbrough. Call 01642 817395 for more information.
You can also contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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