EVEN BEFORE SHE BEGAN STARRING on Friends, migraine headaches were a thing of the past for Lisa Kudrow. But growing up in Tarzana, Calif., she had been plagued by them. Trips to Disneyland left her in tears, she says, since “a day of excitement and eating would always end in a horrible headache.” Her sister and two brothers suffered as well. “Headaches are hereditary,” says Lisa’s father, Dr. Lee Kudrow, 64. “I passed them on to my children.”
The waves of agony known as cluster headaches first struck the senior Kudrow when he was a 22-year-old premed student at UCLA. “It’s a violent pain,” he says, “and the reaction is violent. I’ve thrown chairs and hit walls.” After graduating from medical school, he became a general practitioner, but in 1971 he opened the California Medical Clinic for Headache in Encino, 10 miles from the home he shares with his wife, Nedra, 63. In the years that followed, Kudrow became “preeminent internationally in the field of headache treatment,” says Dr. Fred Sheftell, director of the New England Center for Headache.
Free of cluster headaches for 11 years and now retired, Kudrow notes that “the fatal diseases get all the attention and research money, and maybe that’s the way it should be. But I’ve learned that quality of life is just as important as life itself. All you have to do is speak to headache patients and they’ll tell you that.” Two years ago he and his neurologist son David, 39, were intrigued by a report on the dramatic effects the inexpensive sunburn remedy lidocaine, administered as nasal drops, had on cluster headaches. Experimenting, they found lidocaine stopped migraines as well in 60 percent of the 39 patients tested.
Hearing about the breakthrough findings, California neurologist Dr. Morris Maizels, consulted the Kudrows and, starting in 1994, ran a more formal study on lidocaine with a success rate of 55 percent. When the results were published in July in The Journal of the American Medical Association, lidocaine made headlines. The nation’s 23 million migraine victims at last had reason for hope, and much of the credit goes to Lee Kudrow. None of which comes as any surprise to Lisa. “My dad,” says the actress, who was once premed herself at Vassar, “is soooo cool.”