James Weatherall living with migraine

A migraine-friendly workplace – from an employee’s perspective

Meet James Weatherall, Director and Head of Global Market Access, Neurology at Lundbeck.

James Weatherall

 

Nationality: Canadian 

Citizenship: Canadian and Danish 

Family

 

Married to Cecilie Dohlmann Weatherall Father to Sofia (19), Veronika (15) and Adam (11) 

Employment

 

Director and Head of Global Market Access, Neurology for Lundbeck 

Diagnosis

 

Migraine

Interests

 

Family, tennis, surfing, wind surfing, golf,  ice Hockey, skiing, traveling, arts, film

James Weatherall has a vivid recollection of the day he met his life-long companion. He was 19 years old and on a tennis scholarship at New Mexico State University near the US-Mexican border and had just entered the tennis court under the scorching desert sun. While he was pumping balls over the net during yet another practice session, his vision suddenly started to blur.

 

This could have been the beginning of a love story with the love of his life knocking him out at first sight, but it is quite the contrary. The blurred vision was followed by nausea, vomiting, and, finally, intense pain like nothing he had ever encountered before. Mustering all his willpower he dragged himself back to his room and pulled down the curtains – instinctively sensing that the light was making the situation worse. But along with the pain and nausea came the anxiety: What was happening to him?  

 

A call to his mother quickly settled the uncertainty. After he had described his symptoms, she told him he had just had a migraine attack.

 

“When she said that, I immediately remembered episodes during my childhood where my mom would sometimes be out for hours or days. And my sister also had migraine, but for some reason, I had never had an attack until then.” 

Working with a disease he knows 

 

Fast forward to 2022. James is sitting comfortably in his office at Lundbeck Headquarters in Valby, Denmark. He is now Director and Head of Global Market Access, Neurology, primarily working with Lundbeck’s newest disease area, migraine.  

 

The position seems logical for someone who has suffered from migraine all his life, but James Weatherall’s route here has had detours. Love brought him from Canada to Denmark, where he has spent the best part of the last 25 years. Initially as a tennis coach, then a labor economist with a Danish government agency before transitioning over to pharma for the last 17 years and now working with a disease he can relate to first-hand.  

 

“It really means a lot to me to work with a disease I know. As Head of Market Access, it’s basically my job to remove barriers preventing migraine patients from getting the right treatment as quickly as possible. So, I have no problems motivating myself.” 

 

From headache days to severe attacks 

 

Since that first attack in New Mexico 31 years ago, James reckons he has had on average about two severe events and a significant amount of mild to moderate events a year, accompanied by many headache days. And he has learned to spot – and to a certain extent avoid – situations that trigger his migraine.  

 

“For me, low blood sugar is a trigger along with bright lights, heat, and lack of sleep to mention the most important. It helps to be aware of the triggers but if you are ambitious at work, want to be involved in your children’s lives, and have a social life with wife and friends, it can be difficult to completely avoid situations that trigger the migraine.”  

 

Text-book severe events from James’ back catalog include coaching his daughter’s soccer team in a tournament abroad and having to leave the girls mid-match. Or leaving his mother and five-year-old son to fend for themselves for 16 hours in Manhattan while he concentrated on dealing with the excruciating pain of a severe event.  

 

“The helplessness of not being able to take care of your children and family adds an extra layer to the situation in addition to the pain and nausea. And after a severe event, there is also the uncertainty and anxiety that it can happen again any time – that has been psychologically quite negative for me in some parts of my life.”  

 

Had he not majored in economics and worked in pharma, James might have pursued his tennis career even more aggressively. He won the NCAA Division 1 Big West 6 Conference Championship in 1992 while at university in the US, played professional tournaments back in Canada, and grew up playing with – and occasionally beating – players like later Olympic champion Daniel Nestor, later US Open winner Sebastian Lareau and later world no.4 Greg Rusedski.  

 

He has retained his love of tennis – and also enjoys skiing, golf, surfing, and windsurfing. His passion for sports is shared by his children. His two daughters both play elite soccer in Denmark while his son plays ice hockey in the local hockey club. 

1.3 billion

Worldwide, 1.3 billion people live with migraine.1

 

35-39 years

The most likely age group to have migraine is the one from 35–39 years.2

40%  

Only around 40% of people with migraine have consulted a doctor.3

Benefits of a migraine-friendly workplace  


His main exercise consists of a bicycle commute to and from work – a substantial distance of 35 kilometers in each direction which provides a good workout on his e-bike. However, he enjoys the opportunity he has at Lundbeck for working from home.  

 

“For me, Lundbeck is definitely a very migraine-friendly workplace and I have experienced that firsthand. I typically work from home one to two days a week. It cuts a lot of the stress of the commute which helps reduce or prevent migraines from happening, and I really appreciate the flexibility.”  

 

James sympathizes with fellow migraine sufferers who don’t have the same opportunity and marvels at the mental strength shown by people who are even more severely affected than himself.  

 

“I can’t imagine having to function with 15 headache days a month and eight migraine days. I sympathize with those people to an incredible degree, and you should not underestimate the power of the patient...”  

 

James Weatherall’s own “self-protection” kit includes always having something edible at hand if he suspects a migraine is building up or he feels susceptible to migraine. That might avert a full-blown severe episode that totally knocks him out, but with mild to moderate attacks he is able to negotiate during a working day on over-the-counter painkillers even though he will not be the best version of himself. 

The power of the patients


Even though knowledge and understanding of migraine have grown through his three decades with the disease, things could still improve.  

 

“I feel many people don’t understand the impact an event has on a person with migraine. This is more the case in some countries than in others, so part of what drives me at work is securing access to treatment for people who really need it. As for myself, I have decided never to let migraine stop me, and although it may restrain me still to a certain extent, I have never let it stop me from achieving my goals. I hope that will be the main message of this article: That the patients are powerful.” 

 

 James’ own life today involves many family obligations after work, including evening training at the ice hockey rink with his son. If he just had to think about himself with no other commitments tonight?  

 

“Hmm… I would say… I would windsurf or play tennis. One of those two things. It could also be golf or hockey. One of those four, definitely.” 

“It really means a lot to me to work with a disease I know. As Head of Market Access, it’s basically my job to remove barriers preventing migraine patients from getting the right treatment as quickly as possible. So, I have no problems motivating myself.” James Weatherall

Facts about migraine

A migraine attack is a severe headache that stops a person from going about their daily life. Some people also experience symptoms know as ‘aura’ – temporary disturbances of vision or other senses, such as seeing flashes of light, having blind spots, or feeling pins and needles.4,5

A person with a migraine attack may feel nauseous and may be extremely sensitive to light and sound.4

 

 

 

People with migraine miss an average of seven days of work or activities per year due to their condition.6

 

 

 

  1. GBD 2017 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2018;392(10159):1789–1858.
  2. GBD 2016 Headache Collaborators. Global, regional, and national burden of migraine and tension-type headache, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet Neurol. 2018;17(11):954–976.  
  3. Merikangas KR, Cui L, Richardson AK, Isler H, Khoromi S, Nakamura E, et al. Magnitude, impact, and stability of primary headache subtypes: 30 year prospective Swiss cohort study. BMJ. 2011;343:d5076. 
  4. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia. 2018;38(1):1–211. 
  5. Weatherall MW. The diagnosis and treatment of chronic migraine. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2015;6(3):115–123.  
  6. Alonso J, Petukhova M, Vilagut G, Chatterji S, Heeringa S, Üstün TB, et al. Days out of role due to common physical and mental conditions: results from the WHO World Mental Health surveys. Mol Psychiatry. 2011;16(12):1234–1246. 
  7. Bose P, Goadsby, PJ. The migraine postdrome. Current Opinion in Neurology. 2016;29(3):299-301.