Meet Dr. Adrienne Kovacs

Adrienne Kovacs

I am a psychologist who works with people who have congenital heart disease—a heart problem that has been present since birth. I am the Director of Behavioral Cardiovascular Care for the Knight Cardiovascular Institute at OHSU. I also do research on psychology and congenital heart disease (which is often shortened to CHD).

Before coming to OHSU, I worked for 11 years at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center at the University of Toronto in Canada, one of the world's oldest and largest adult congenital heart disease programs.

What does psychology have to do with my heart condition?

Having a heart problem from birth can be mentally and emotionally challenging. For example, people with CHD have a higher risk of depression and anxiety than most people.

My job is to help you and others with CHD develop skills to feel better, communicate better with your family, friends and health care team and live a more fulfilling life.

Why is this important? Because research tells us that mental, physical and emotional health are connected. When your quality of life is better, you are likely to be healthier and stronger.

Does every congenital heart disease program have a psychologist?

Actually, it is rare for a heart clinic to have a psychologist for patients. In my previous position in Canada, I was the only full-time psychologist in North America working with adult congenital heart disease patients. The OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute is doing something new, and choosing to include a psychologist on the CHD team says a lot about their goal of caring for all your needs.

Do you work with my cardiologist?

Absolutely. My focus is psychology, but I am definitely part of the cardiology department. Every day, I work with cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, dietitians and exercise experts. I greatly enjoy working with the entire heart care team.

Why do you love your work?

That's simple. My patients! You inspire me because you face challenges most people probably don't understand, yet you insist on finding ways to live life to the fullest. Most middle-aged adults know someone else who has heart disease. But most young people with CHD will tell me that they don't know anybody else with a heart condition. Growing up, your condition might have affected your education, your social life and even your career options. With this kind of impact, it's natural to run a greater risk than most people for anxiety and depression. Yet every patient is unique, and I see my work with each of you as a one-of-a-kind partnership.

Every day I spend in the clinic rewards me with the knowledge that I helped someone make the most of their quality of life.

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