by Jody Kerzman  | Photography: Photos by Jacy

Armed with a college degree in accounting and having worked in sales and marketing for years, Sigrid Strebe never dreamed she’d make her living as a yoga instructor. Yet that is exactly the job she felt called to do. Sigrid taught yoga in Minnesota and Virginia, and by the time she and her husband moved to North Dakota in 2015, she’d been teaching yoga for more than a decade.

“I like to work with people, especially those who think they are too old, too inflexible, or too broken to be helped. Yoga can help them change the way they see themselves.”

Sigrid opened Transitions Yoga in Bismarck in October 2015, and by August 2016, she had outgrown her space. So she moved to a bigger space. Now, she employs 13 teachers, many of those are teachers that she has trained. Sigrid wants everyone to experience the power of yoga—she teaches yoga in the park every summer for free and has been known to give out passes for a free yoga class to everyone she meets.

“I just want to expose people to yoga, and I don’t want cost to keep anyone from trying it, so I always give people a chance to try it for free,” she explains. “Yoga changes lives and helps us get to a calm and quiet place. That can be scary at first, because we hear the voices in our heads. We are so mean to ourselves. If we spoke to others the way we speak to ourselves, well, that would be just awful.”

Sigrid knows there are other health benefits to yoga as well, including increased flexibility, weight loss, cardio health, increased energy, and improved muscle tone. Those are all benefits that led her to yoga in the first place. After practicing yoga for over a decade, and living a healthy lifestyle, Sigrid felt invincible.

So when she had a heart attack earlier this year, no one was more surprised than Sigrid.

“I had a complete blockage of my right coronary artery. I had to have two stents put in,” she recalls.

Sigrid says there were symptoms leading up to her heart attack, warning signs even. But she ignored them.

“I live a healthy lifestyle. I eat right and I get lots of exercise. I don’t have any of the risk factors associated with heart disease. I never thought I would have a heart attack,” Sigrid says. “Looking back, I should have realized what was happening.”

Sigrid says the symptoms started five days prior,  when she remembers feeling “icky.” But she had an explanation for each symptom.

“On that Wednesday, I had a pain on my left side. I figured I just slept wrong. We were going to the lake, so I ignored it,” she recalls. “We were waterskiing and I felt nauseous so we decided to call it quits. I had friends and a friend’s son with me, and I didn’t want to get sick on the water.”

Sigrid and her friends returned to shore, and she took some Tylenol and rested. She remembers feeling better, but still not great.

“I remember joking that it was either heartburn or a heart attack,” Sigrid says.

Sigrid continued her active lifestyle. On Saturday, she and a friend biked 21 miles as her friend trained for a race.

“I felt tired, but who wouldn’t be tired after biking 21 miles on hilly terrain? I felt nauseous at lunch, and my hand hurt, but I figured it was from holding onto my bike and again probably just heartburn. And my son came home to visit that night,  and I was not going to waste any time going to the doctor when I could be enjoying his company.

“I slept in until about 9 a.m. the next day. Anyone that knows me, knows I’m an early riser and 9 a.m. is the middle of the day.  When I woke up I still had pressure in my chest. I tried to shake it off. I reminded myself that I was not a candidate for a heart attack. I told myself I must just be tired from work and the bike ride the previous day.”

Later that day, Sigrid and her husband, Arnie, went to the rifle range, 15 miles from Bismarck.

“I walked at least a mile out there. I was tired, had pressure in my chest, and was warm. I think my temperature was 101 degrees. Still, I told myself I must just have the summer flu and if I sat down maybe the nausea will subside.”

But a few hours later, Sigrid had changed her mind.

The chest pressure, tightness in the throat, pain in the back, headache, and extreme nausea weren’t enough symptoms, but when the lightning bolt shock went down both arms she knew it was more than just the flu and something more serious. Sigrid thought this could be a heart attack.

Sigrid was right. She was having a heart attack. Doctors told her she had 100 percent blockage in her right coronary artery. They inserted two stents, kept her hospitalized for two nights,  and ordered her to cardiac rehab three times a week for 12 weeks. Sigrid went to cardiac rehab, eager to get back to her old self and her old lifestyle. She took two weeks off of work and then was back teaching yoga.

But her lifestyle was already healthy. What caused her heart attack?

“No one in my family admits to having any heart issues, but doctors say it is probably hereditary or a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD),” says Sigrid. “I don’t have high blood pressure, my cholesterol is healthy, my BMI is normal. I live a healthy lifestyle. Why did this happen to me? I know it could have been much worse, but I still wondered, ‘Why me?’

“I felt like a fraud. I preach to others the importance of being healthy, and I own my own yoga studio where we are all about healthy lifestyles. And then here I am, having a heart attack. I guess that proves it can happen to anyone. I decided since I’m still here, I cannot be quiet about this. I’ve always had the motto, ‘Make your mess your message’ and that’s what I intend to do with this mess.”

On August 11, just over a month after her heart attack, Sigrid was a speaker at the Heart Walk in Bismarck.

It is the first of many awareness events Sigrid plans to be involved with. By sharing her story—by making her mess her message—she hopes she can save a life. Her “mess” has been a reminder to her of the importance of gratitude.

“We need to be grateful for big and small events. I think of three things every single day that I am thankful for; sometimes those are big events, and sometimes they are small events. But there is always something to be grateful for. We have to be able to see that.”

At the top of Sigrid’s gratitude list every day, is her health.

Sigrid has been given a clean bill of health. She has returned to most of her normal routine but has learned to stop when she’s tired, fully enjoy the company of those around her, and to spread the word about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. In the months since her heart attack, Sigrid has learned that the symptoms of heart attack can be different in women than in men, and are often misunderstood. And, according to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases and stroke lead to death in one out of every three women each year; that’s approximately one woman every 80 seconds. Those are statistics Sigrid has taken to heart.

“I never want the one in three to be someone I know. That might be living in a world shaded by rose colored glasses, but I will continue to stay focused on prevention and informing others of the risks.”   

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