WHEN Neil Kemp gets behind the wheel of his new car today he will be celebrating a major milestone.
Five years ago, he was given just 48 hours to live after a brain stem stroke.
The stroke, his second, left Neil unable to eat, speak or walk at the age of 42.
But with determination and the support of his partner, Alison Philips, he has gone on to defy doctors with his recovery.
Alison said: “A brain stem stroke affects your speech, memory, everything.
“The doctors gave him 48 hours to live and said that if he did, it would be very unlikely that he would walk and talk again.”
And the loss of abilities that many of us take for granted changed Neil’s whole outlook.
“Just living was the priority then,” he said. “I’d get up on a morning and feel lucky I was alive.
“I used to be a transport manager, telling everyone what to do. Suddenly I couldn’t tell anyone anything. It was hard.”
In the months that followed, Neil began the long task of learning to eat, walk and talk.
“I always had my head down,” he said. “I wouldn’t talk to anybody or eat or drink in front of anyone, but I’d set myself goals.
“I had to have thickener in my food for 18 months. It was like eating wallpaper paste. It was the best time of my life when I didn’t have to eat it any more.
“I remember the first place I ate in public again was a museum. I asked for a can of pop and a piece of cake.”
Neil, of Kennedy Close, Hanging Heaton, said one of the hardest things to adapt to was the way others treated him.
He said: “People certainly do treat you differently. They don’t know what to expect.
“I used to think it was old people who had strokes, but it’s not. I think people are becoming more aware, but you still get people staring. I like to be treated normally. I’ve done this much, so why not?”
A member of Lupset Stoke Club and Stroke Association, 47-year-old Neil does what he can to raise awareness and support others who have had a stroke.
“I’ve found lots of friends down here,” he said. “Everybody who goes to the club has had a stroke. There’s nobody making fun of you. You’re all the same.
“When people have a stroke they are very down. I try to give them some life back.”
He has also joined the Kirklees-wide Practice Activity and Leisure Scheme, which referred him to the chair-based exercise classes at Dewsbury Sports Centre.
But Neil’s biggest achievement by far is regaining his driving licence.
Alison, 45, said: “The physio said that in 27 years he has been referring people, he’s never seen anybody who’s had a brain stem stroke be able to drive again. “
Neil said: “I never thought I would drive again. Years I’ve waited for that and it’s been worth every minute. I feel like I’ve got my life back.”