New Lakeland clinic targets lingering COVID symptoms

Lakeland now has a new clinic for people with ongoing problems after getting COVID-19.

Estimates range wildly how many people that might entail. Some experts say one out of 10 former COVID patients has persistent problems. Others say it may be one out of four, or more.

Whatever the statistics, Charles Harkala is among them. Weeks after officially being over the virus, the 70-year-old still could not think straight, and his memory was failing.

"That was the most devastating part. Was I ever going to be me again?" he told FOX 13.

Harkala was one of the first patients at the new post-COVID clinic at Watson Clinic.

Dr. Kathleen Haggerty, who heads the facility, has seen about three dozen patients so far.

"There is an enormous spectrum of problems," she explained. About 100 have been documented.

"The most common is fatigue," Haggerty said. "There is also shortness of breath, chest pain, brain fog."


COVID-19 long-haulers search for answers as symptoms persist

A significant number of COVID-19 patients are dealing with symptoms long after their initial infection. They test negative for the virus, yet weeks to months later are still experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness or concentration difficulties.

COVID can cause substantial damage to your heart, lungs and kidneys, which is fairly easy to diagnose. But Haggerty says doctors may not connect other more general symptoms to the coronavirus as easily.

As a result, she says, some doctors may be skeptical about a patient’s complaints.

"You have to understand, these people don’t want to be sick. They are not making this up," continued Haggerty. "They don’t want to be lying on their bed staring up at the ceiling. They want out. They want back to their usual lives."

She says that’s where the specialized clinic comes in, providing medical and emotional support.


Lakeland health officials warn of COVID case increase

As a result of rapidly rising number of cases, Lakeland commissioners are crafting a strongly worded resolution urging people to wear a mask, and take precautions against the virus. They plan to vote on it next Tuesday.

Haggerty says it helps patients to be told that they are not alone in their struggle.

"It’s real. I understand, and we’ll work with you until you get better," she pledged.

For more information or to make an appointment, call the post COVID Clinic at Watson Clinic at (863) 680-7190.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know