Running from Stroke – One runners story of survival and endurance.

My name is Ida Dempsey, mother to 3 children, wife, runner and a stroke survivor. In September 2011, at the age of 40, I suffered a haemorrhagic stroke due to untreated high blood pressure.

Running was my passion before the debilitating effects of stroke not only stole my ability to run – but to walk, talk and hold my 3 young children.


I have always been sporty and enjoyed short distance running when I was young, but I have never ran long distances. I got the long distance running bug while living in Auckland for my husbands work. I had wonderful friends who shared my passion for running and they challengedme to run further. So from 4km, to 8km, then eventually my first half marathon in Auckland, 2008. 2 years later when I returned to Australia, I ran the Gold Coast half in preparation for the full Melbourne marathon later in 2010. Unfortunately, I got injured and life got too busy and I never completed the marathon.

I am determined to complete this marathon in 2014 and show stroke that I’m the boss!

1st half mara

My first half marathon prestroke ~ BANG ON 2 hours.


My life was busy. Married with 3 children at 3 different schools, I worked long 4 days each week. In the months before my stroke, I commenced a demanding university course. This added to my stress as I hadn’t been to uni for over 20 years and even then, I hated the work!

As a non-smoker and occasional drinker, I was healthy and fit and ran regularly. My stroke was caused by the dangerous combination of stress and untreated high blood pressure.


LIFE at 40 WAS GREAT ~ 5 months before my stroke, my 40th birthday party and 40th birthday trip to New York!


As usual, I had a busy day and was looking forward spending some time with my friends that evening. I was at a semi-final match of the National Rugby League when my stroke occurred. I was at a large stadium and was very lucky that paramedics were at hand and a major hospital was near by. I was also lucky that my friends knew the signs of stroke and promptly raised the attention of paramedics at the ground. I had the 3 most classic signs of Stroke known as F.A.S.T: I had Facial droop, I had right Arm and leg weakness. When asked to stand up, my right leg collapsed from under me. My Speech was slurred and I became confused. Without having had any alcohol that day, I appeared quite drunk! Time was of the essence and the quick actions of my friends saved my life. Had they not noticed these signs, and not implored upon the paramedics that there was something seriously wrong, our story would be quite different. And so my stroke journey begins……


One of my friends that saved my life by knowing the signs of stroke!


I was rushed to hospital and told the devastating news that I had a major stroke. I was unable to walk, talk coherently or eat. I had lost sensation and mobility of the whole right side of me, from head to toe. I was unable to look after myself, including washing myself or go to the toilet on my own. Even more devastating, I couldn’t tie my 11yo daughters hair. Basically, I had to learn everything that I ever took for granted and the basics of self care, let alone look after my 3 children.

I spent a week in intensive care within the hospital’s stroke unit, which was followed by 6 weeks of intensive in-patient rehabilitation. I missed both my sons birthdays, which was devastating for me, I have never missed their birthdays! I actually had my 9yo sons birthday party all planned and prepared (he got to have his party with the help of family and friends).

I had physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and counselling sessions 6 hours a day, 5 days a week followed by out-patient rehabilitation for a further 3 months. The hours spent not with professional help, I continued to rehabilitate and learn what they taught me by myself.

Learning to walk, talk and feed myself suddenly became life’s priorities. I needed to be home and look after my children. I could not drive for a further 3 months and I relied heavily on the enormous support from close, and now life long friends to help out. My 3 children were my inspiration to recover and my always present grit, determination and stubbornness is why I have recovered well.


Everyday I continue to improve. Some areas I still a struggle. I often still need to concentrate on walking and talking requires energy and perseverance. My speech is still jumbled at times and I find it very difficult to concentrate in large groups. My right side is still compromised with only parts of my feeling and sensation returning nearly 3 years after my stroke. I have no hot or cold sensation on my right side and the most insignificant irritations can feel enormously painful.


Over the last 3 years, I have learnt to do most things on my own, but learning to run well again remains a key milestone. Running the Melbourne marathon in October this year is my dream. I had a major, injured brain glitch this time last year when I decided to run a marathon after my stroke to raise stroke awareness and fundraising…yikes! What was I thinking.

After rehab, I didn’t think I could run again. But with my stubborn nature I taught myself how to run. I started down my 4m hallway, then my back yard, then 20m down my street and then around the block (1km). After my first 1km, I felt like I was hit by a truck, I felt like I already ran a marathon. It took me a whole week to recover, but I’m proud to say, 27th April this year, I ran my first half marathon after my stroke (Run Noosa). I shuffled and I was slow and near the end of the pack, but by golly, I CAN RUN!


My first half marathon post stroke with some of my emotional and crying support crew!


Due to right side sensation deficits, I often don’t have control of my right foot and when I land, I land hard and jar my body a lot. It feels like I am running only on one leg and I don’t know when/where the right leg lands. My style has improved over time and most people don’t notice anything wrong. BUT boy it’s a struggle, the right leg just feels like lead and feels heavy to run with all the time. I don’t listen to music while running because I need to concentrate non stop….lift that foot! I can run uphill but I struggle going down as I often can’t control my foot. But hey, I’m running which most stroke survivors can’t do!


I have been amazed and saddened by the lack of stroke awareness in the community. I was surprised at how many of my friends, family and even strangers could not believe that a fit, young and healthy woman of 40 years could have a stroke. Surely stroke only happens to old people? I am now committed to educating and encouraging stroke awareness, particularly the signs of stroke and the ongoing support for stroke survivors.

I am proudly raising funds to support the good work of the National Stroke Foundation and raising stroke awareness in my own little way. Stroke can hit at any age!

More of my story, my fundraising efforts and my running challenges can be viewed in my facebook page or website:

One response to “Running from Stroke – One runners story of survival and endurance.

  1. It was touching to read your story. I know exactly the challenges you face on a daily basis. My father also had a major stroke at 50 years young and i was only 20.. i admire the fact you have taught yourself to run again.. what a massive achievement you must be so proud of yourself!
    I saw determination in my dad after his stroke that i had never seen in him before. 7 years on my dad no longer improves and lives in a nursing home as my mother and him where divorced when it happened and dad didnt want to impose on his children.
    The general public have little knowledge on strokes and you are very lucky you had quick medical attention.
    I just wanted to say that you and your family should be so proud of you. I wish you luck completing your melbourne marathon in october. You are an inspiration.

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