The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 21st

UNC's COVID Recovery Clinic treats patients experiencing long-term symptoms

Dr. Natalie Doyle holds up a COVID-19 testing swab at her office in Wilson, N.C. on Nov. 15, 2020.
Buy Photos Dr. Natalie Doyle holds up a COVID-19 testing swab at her office in Wilson, N.C. on Nov. 15, 2020.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Dr. John Michael Baratta's name. In addition to this, the previous version also misstated the primary goal of the COVID Recovery Clinic. The article has been updated to reflect the appropriate changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for these errors. 

Katie Hayes was playing outside with her son in November when she began having a burning sensation in her chest.

This was two days before she tested positive for COVID-19. Hayes said COVID-19 then spread to her wife, son, ex-husband and son’s bonus mom. All others had mild symptoms. 

But Hayes's COVID-19 symptoms did not subside. 

Now, over the past couple of months, Hayes has experienced almost every common COVID-19 symptom except passing out and losing oxygen.

In many cases, like Hayes', COVID-19 affects patients beyond just the two-week period during which most people test positive. Long-term symptoms of the virus, often referred to as "long COVID," can range from lasting muscle pain to memory loss in patients. But through UNC’s new COVID Recovery Clinic, doctors are aiming to address this phenomenon. 

During one of her hospital visits, Hayes was alerted by a nurse about UNC’s COVID Recovery Clinic, led by Dr. John Michael Baratta and Dr. Louise King, assistant professor in the School of Medicine. Through the clinic, Hayes was able to get a treatment plan for her symptoms after struggling with hospitals that didn't source her symptoms as accurately. 

Phase one of the clinic

Baratta is an assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and King is an internal medicine specialist in the department of medicine. Both doctors strive to create primary clinical care and help provide care to the people of North Carolina by treating their post-COVID-19 symptoms.

Baratta said the COVID Recovery Clinic's biggest goal is to provide excellent clinical care for people struggling with lingering symptoms after COVID infection. In addition to this, the clinic hopes to develop research programs and create a new knowledge base to understand post-COVID-19 symptoms and how to treat it. 

At this point, Baratta said the clinic is still in phase one. They have only seen patients for two months and are still in the stage of hiring specialists. 

"The clinic aims to serve anybody who has post-COVID symptoms, but the majority of the people we have seen are 20 to 50-year-olds who were not hospitalized while testing positive,” King said. 

By May, Baratta and King plan to have physicians from the following specialties: PM&R, internal medicine, psychiatry, neuropsychology and physical, occupational and speech therapies. These specialists will assess and provide treatment plans for patients who have difficulty with memory and attention related to COVID-19.

Baratta said the team also hopes to hire a social worker and nurse coordinators to help assist patients as they navigate the health system. 

Commitment to care

After visiting and receiving treatment from the COVID Recovery Clinic, Hayes said that King found what was causing her chest pains in just three days.

King then created an immediate plan. Hayes said she was nervous about her results, but found that King was diligent, nice and reassuring. 

Now, Hayes has a treatment plan for the next six months and has been pleased by the COVID Recovery Clinic’s commitment to care. 

Going forward, Baratta and King said the clinic hopes to open up to as many patients — continuing to devote time and effort into every particular case to help patients with long-term COVID-19 symptoms like Hayes'. 

The clinic is looking for any students and professionals passionate about making a change in COVID-19 research and treatment and helping patients on their road to recovery. For more information, visit the clinic's website

university@dailytarheel.com

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