32-Year-Old Kiwi Bravely Tells Her Stroke Story At Asb Auckland Marathon



Jessica Penberthy was a typical 28-year-old enjoying life when the first of her three strokes struck out of the blue. On Sunday November 1st she will take on the NZ Avocado 5km event at the ASB Auckland Marathon, in the hope of raising awareness of an illness that most associate with the ‘old and frail’.


Penberthy on a hiking trip in the Norwegian Fiords in 2018 as she recovered from her first stroke in 2017.

These past three years have been nothing like Penberthy might have imagined as she and her partner Jamie were enjoying life in the UK, working, and travelling. Her reality quickly became uncertainty, tests, scans, hospital stays and an ongoing search for answers as her world was turned upside down.


“I have finally reached a stage when I think I can share my story and what has happened to me to try and help other people,” said Penberthy as she recalls her first stroke in January of 2017.


“We had been living in London and doing some travelling and I got some crazy psychedelic migraines – we had just got back from Sweden and I had no idea what was happening, I had never had this before.


“The first day back I called in sick and then the next day as I was getting ready to go into work my right arm completely collapsed as I was doing my hair and the only thing I could associate it with was having a stroke. It was pure luck that I knew the signs, someone had shared a video on Facebook to recognize a stroke so you would know what to do. Luckily, I watched it – and it was obvious to me I was having a stroke.”


Penberthy headed to hospital at Paddington in London and spent the day undergoing tests and consultations, with doctors and specialists trying to make sense of a healthy 28-year-old having a stroke when her vital signs all appeared normal. This was the start of a great deal of head scratching from medical specialists on both sides of the world.


“I went back and forwards from the hospital for a few days with more testing and eventually got a call saying I had a blood clot on the brain – and I said ‘oh I have had a stroke’  but the doctor said ‘no it is not a stroke, it is a blood clot’.


A few more days in another hospital and many more tests later, Penberthy first got confirmation that she had indeed suffered a stroke. Calls back home to New Zealand followed, with family made aware of what would be the first of three strokes to hit the former Asset Manager.


“I didn’t tell too many people back home, to be honest I was embarrassed that at 28-years-old I had had a stroke because as far as I was aware it only happened to older people. I was still in that denial phase of ‘why me’ and I didn’t want to feel that pity when you tell people.”  


With a diagnosis at this point of a cryptogenic stroke – with the cause unknown, Penberthy underwent therapy and physio with the help of the UK Stroke Association and went back to work and sought as normal a life as she could, despite the chronic fatigue and ongoing therapy.


“I did have to change careers and move away from the high stress of my work in property management. I had to put my health first but two years later it was while at work that I had my second stroke.”


That was March 2019 and Penberthy stepped up her quest for answers. If there was a test available, the brave young Kiwi sought it out, undergoing everything from the obvious CT and MRI scans, to seeing a hematologist to check for blood disorders and working with cardiologists who put bubbles in her blood to then scan and see how they moved through her heart and towards her brain and even underwent a trans-oesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) to get an ultrasound scan of her heart.


“After my third stroke in October 2019 and a month long stay in hospital, we came back to New Zealand in November, for a break over Christmas. I have since undergone more testing on a muscle biopsy I had back in the UK to see if I have a mitochondrial disorder – it is very scientific and difficult to grasp and while I don’t yet have all the answers, I have been told my case is a very rare one in a billion, but they continue to test my muscle tissue in what is a bit of a waiting game with specialists here and in the UK.”


This Sunday November 1st Penberthy will take her story to the wider community, bravely sharing all she has been through in order to help others understand and recognize a stroke and the impact it can have on people of all ages when she walks the NZ Avocado 5km event at the ASB Auckland Marathon, doing so to raise money and awareness for the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand.


“I have received amazing support from the Stroke Foundation, I spoke to Maria – a community stroke advisor and started going to a Stroke Group out West in Te Atatu to learn more about how to cope post stroke. They have been a wonderful support and opened access to a physio, occupational therapist, speech therapist and a psychologist – all through the DHB which was really helpful. Maria also put me forward for rehab through ABI Community Services via zoom over the latest lockdown.


“I started talking in our Stroke Group with another community stroke advisor Paula about a few of us doing something together as part of our rehabilitation, a walk or something. We had just missed Round the Bays but Paula said what about the Auckland Marathon? I immediately thought yes, let’s get in amongst it and do something for an amazing organization that is very close to my heart.”


Robbie Ross is Marketing and Fundraising Manager for Stroke Foundation of New Zealand and is hugely appreciative of Jessica’s decision to share her story with the wider community.


“Stroke survivors face a number of challenges during recovery – many have to relearn to walk, talk and rebuild their strength. We’re so grateful to Jessica for setting herself this goal and doing so to support the Stroke Foundation. Her efforts in both raising important awareness about stroke and vital funds will enable us to support and empower even more stroke survivors. We’d like to extend our thanks to all those that are participating and have donated so far; you’re helping to make an incredible difference.”


COVID-19 and lockdowns have complicated things a little and meant face to face meetings have been ruled out for much of the year, but Penberthy has hopes that at least ten of her group will be on the start line for the NZ Avocado 5km event.


“The main message I want to share is how to  recognize the signs of a stroke and what to do using the FAST system– is the Face a bit weird, have they lost the use of an Arm and is their Speech affected and if any of that is yes, that Time is of the essence – but the main thing is to understand that a stroke can hit anyone of any age.”


Stroke Foundation New Zealand is one of six official charities in the Charity Superstar Programme at the ASB Auckland Marathon, with runners raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through their participation in any of the five race distances on offer.


ASB Auckland Marathon
Sunday November 1st 2020

  • Barfoot & Thompson Kids 2km
  • NZ Avocado 5km
  • John West Traverse 11km
  • Barfoot & Thompson Half Marathon
  • ASB Marathon

Charity Superstar Programme CLICK HERE