TWO of our Pride of South Tyneside Award winners have finally got their hands on their trophies.
Paul Belk and Karl Smith were unable to attend the star-studded awards ceremony at the Temple Park Centre in South Shields, on Sunday.
But their families took to the stage to accept the awards in their absence and they have now been passed on to them.
Paul, 28, from South Shields, has battled back from a devastating brain injury to learn how to walk again, live independently and even start work.
He was given just a two per cent chance of survival after being left in a coma when his drink was spiked in Thailand in 2005.
His recovery continues to defy medical opinion and has been described as nothing short of a miracle.
David Rae, from Neuro Partners, which provides specialist care for Paul, nominated him for the Achieving Excellence award.
Paul was unable to accept the award himself as he was at a family wedding, but his aunt, Susan Childerstone, and uncle, Peter Scott, collected it on his behalf.
Mrs Childerstone said: “He’s pivotal to all our lives. We are just so incredibly proud of him.”
Mr Scott added: “He’s just like the old Paul. It just goes to show, nothing’s impossible.”
Paul’s mum, Carol, said he was disappointed he couldn’t be there on the night, but the award will now take pride of place at his specially-adapted home in Moor Lane East, Harton. She added: “I think he’s very touched about it, because it is such a recognition of all the hard work that he’s done.
“It is lovely and we are absolutely thrilled about it.”
Paul moved into his own place in 2011, after staying in specialist rehabilitation centres since flying home from Thailand, where he had been backpacking.
He continues to receive physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and uses a wheelchair and walking frame to get around. His ultimate aim is to walk again.
Little Karl received his Child of Courage award in hospital from dad Chris Parkin and mum Kayleigh Smith yesterday.
The 22-month-old, who was born with two heart defects and has undergone a series of operations, is back in Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary awaiting more surgery.
Awards host Ray Spencer described him and the two other recipients of the award and their relatives as “families of courage”.
Mr Parkin, of Barnard Crescent, Hebburn, yesterday tweeted: “Fantastic night last night, made excellent as always by @rayspencermbe.
“My son couldn’t attend so it’s off to the RVI to give him his award.”
The Pride of South Tyneside Awards, organised by the Gazette, South Tyneside Council and the Customs House, recognise the borough’s unsung heroes.
Eleven awards were handed out in total, with live coverage of the event provided by the Gazette online and via Twitter using #sgazpride.
Check our website, www.shieldsgazette.com, for videos from the night, featuring the likes of singer Joe McElderry, Little Mix star Jade Thirlwall and Paralympian Josef Craig.
Don’t miss next Friday’s Gazette for a special supplement featuring more on our winners, celebrity guests and sponsors.