Lakeland clinic for COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ has 6-month waitlist for new patients

Staci DaSilva

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County doctor’s office is filling up with patients still suffering from COVID-19 symptoms long after their test came back negative.

“I was missing 30 percent, at least, of who I am,” said Charles Harkala, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in mid-November 2020.

He had what he calls “killer COVID.” The Auburndale man may have thought his battle was over when he was discharged from the hospital, but he said it took him eight weeks to get back to work.

He suffered from brain fog.

“You get a taste of what it’s like to be going into dementia and it’s very frightening and it’s very challenging and there’s not anything you can do about it,” he said.

It’s a common symptom patients are presenting with at Watson Clinic’s post-COVID clinic.

“You see the same thing in person after person after person,” said Dr. Kathleen Haggerty, an internal medicine physician who runs the clinic.

Since September 2020, Dr. Haggerty has seen 250 patients suffering from long haul COVID symptoms: brain fog, fatigue, shortness of breath, hair loss and loss of smell and taste. She says long-lasting symptoms are not common with the flu.

“Most of the people that I’m seeing are not old people. These are people who have had fairly moderate courses of COVID,” said Dr. Haggerty.

Hers was the first post-COVID clinic in Florida. It is now the only one in central Florida after the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville started offering a Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID (PASC) Clinic.

Dr. Haggerty’s new patients are now waiting six months to see her.

“We have a difficulty seeing a huge number of new patients because long haul patients are very complex. So it takes a very long time to get to know them and find out everything that’s gone on with them,” she said.

Harkala feels like himself again and considers himself lucky. However, he said he wants to send the message that COVID-19 is unpredictable and can take a long time to loosen its grip.

“I think too many in our culture have never been around somebody that had killer COVID, or don’t know anybody that’s died from it. Therefore they take this thing like the common cold. Therefore, we argue about minute things like wearing masks and getting vaccines,” he said.

He said he tells people to consult with their doctors about the vaccine.

If you want to learn more about Dr. Haggerty’s post-COVID clinic, call (863) 680-7190 or visit the clinic’s website.


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