Cake Lady helps wounded soldiers heal, one treat at a time

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Kath Ryan delivers a cake to celebrate the 100th birthday of Leonora Jeffreys, a former Doodlebug spotter during World War II in Birmingham, England, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Ryan is behind Cakes 4 Casualties, baking thousands of cakes for service people who have been injured, many as they recover from wounds in hospital. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

LONDON – David Wiseman heard Kath Ryan before he met her.

He was at the far end of Ward S-4 at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham when shouts of “Cake Lady’s here! Cake Lady’s here!” began rolling through the room full of wounded soldiers, bed by bed.

Who was this Cake Lady, he wondered, until he saw a middle-aged woman in a “strange dress'' pushing a trolley and handing out cake.

“When all you’ve seen is doctors and nurses and the odd relative, it was just a bit of an assault on the senses,” Wiseman remembered. “And she was doling out hugs and, you know, cakes. … She just brought joy into that place.”

That was 2009, a bloody time in the war in Afghanistan, when a steady stream of wounded soldiers flowed through Selly Oak needing love as much as medicine. Since then, retired nurse Ryan, 59, has made some 1,260 visits to British hospitals, bonding with the patients as she fed them an estimated 1 million slices of cake.

“I saw them at their worst,” Ryan said. “They could barely breathe, they were in so much pain. They were like skeletons with cling film on them.’’

But she kept coming.

“There are times in life you’re meant to be somewhere, aren’t you?’’ she said.