‘People were told I could die’ Birmingham’s jacket potato lady back at work after crash

Popular baked potato lady Lesley Powell has returned to work at Mr Brumbles on Cherry Street – four months after having a titanium plate inserted into her skull in June.

Now 52, Lesley was put into an induced coma for ten days after being hit by a car on Warwick Road near to Olton Railway Station at around 2.30pm on Saturday 3rd February.

She had been leaving another regular part-time cleaning job at a B&B.

Lesley has no recollection of the accident which left her with a double fracture of the pelvis and three fractured ribs.

To help her body to cope with the trauma, medics put Lesley into an induced coma – but warned friends and family she could die.

Meanwhile, daughter Lauren was more than 1,000 miles away, having only just moved to Iceland in 2017 to live with her boyfriend.

A Crowdfunder appeal raised more than £1,700 to help Lauren to make visits.

Lesley, who works in the Mr Bumbles hot potato trailer next to House of Fraser in Birmingham city centre, seemed to be on the way to recovery in the spring – until pressure on the brain led to fits for the first time in her life.

On 13th June, she underwent a major operation to have a ‘titanium plate with holes in it’ inserted into her skull.

She was signed off sick for two months from 26th July, but on 26th September decided she was going back to work the very next day – even if she hadn’t had the time to get her hair dyed again.

Lesley is now full of beans again – back where she loves to be serving hot potatoes alongside boss Leigh Paton in her tram-style Mr Bumbles’ trailer.

And so, while the potatoes are cooked perfectly inside tin foil used to protect the skins from the oven’s fierce heat, Lesley now has her protective titanium plate underneath her own skin to protect her brain.

“My hair has gone grey now because I haven’t had the time to go and get it dyed,” jokes Lesley.

“But I really don’t care.

“I didn’t want to stay at home another day longer.

“It’s great to be back at work eating and serving hot potatoes and seeing all of the customers again.”

In February, Lesley was working as a cleaning lady as well as on the potato trailer where she had been for 18 months.

“I can only do two hours a day on the trailer, but I love it,” she says.

“Leigh and Robin are good people and I plan to stay with them.

“After Christmas I am hoping to be able to find a second job – there’s always work out there if you want it.”

Leigh, who launched the business on Fore Street in 1990 before moving to her current spot in June 1996, says: “Our customers love being served by Lesley.

“She has a wonderful personality – and it’s great to have her back.”

Since her brush with death, Sheldon-born Lesley says she is determined to make a fresh start.

“People close to me were told that I could die,” she says.

“Doctors said they didn’t know what was going to happen.

“I couldn’t wait to get back to work – and don’t think about the accident a lot.

“I just thought ‘I have got to get on with my life’.

“I smile when I hear people moaning about something completely ridiculous.”

Lesley, then 51, had been walking from work at a bed and breakfast on the Warwick Road close to Olton Railway Station when she was struck by a Mercedes at around 2.30pm on Saturday 3rd February.

She was severely injured in the collision.

The driver of the car – who stopped at the scene and contacted emergency services – assisted police with their inquiries and the matter is still ongoing.

She is grateful to have no memory of the incident.

Lesley says she has never met the driver and has no wish to.

“What is the point if he is saying it was my fault,” she says.

“I have always been very careful crossing roads.

“The driver is arguing I turned back but I have no idea why I would have done that.
“It is still with my solicitors, but we have to prove it (that it wasn’t my fault).

“A lot of people with head injuries don’t remember what happened to them and I think that is good.”

Lesley is grateful to hospital staff at the Queen Elizabeth, Sandwell and Moseley Hall Hospitals for saving her life and helping her to recuperate.

“I went to the QE, to Sandwell, to the QE and then to Moseley Hall,” she says.

“I have done a lot of exercises and can walk again normally – to the point that my bad left knee has come back!”

Lesley has suffered from asthma all of her life and once had radiation treatment for an over-active thyroid.

She then needed daily medication to increase its activity.

As for the long term effects of the crash, she says: “I’ve just got a bit of pain in one shoulder, but I am hoping that will go away in time.”

Three months after the accident, pressure on Lesley’s brain caused her to start to have fits.

Doctors then told her about Plan B – and she agreed immediately.

“I was in pain so I just thought ‘Get on with it’,” she smiles.

“They cut a hole in my head and now I have a titanium plate in my skull… with holes in it.

“You are not supposed to have that kind of operation done for a year but I had mine done on June 13, my sister Sally’s 49th birthday.

“The worst thing was constantly being given different advice afterwards – sit up, lie down… I didn’t know what they were on about.

“Yet now I can’t even feel it.

“My body just seems to have got used to the plate being there in my head.

“It’s amazing – I was able to walk again after only three weeks and life is getting back to normal with people around you.

“The nurse said she could not believe how I had recovered, but you have just got to get on with stuff.”

Lesley says one of the worst things about her year has been having to resort to benefits.

“It is one of the reasons I went back to work on September 27 and have asked to come off them.

“I just didn’t want the hassle of them taking 67p off me for every hour I work when I am currently working ten hours per week.

“What’s the point – is that crazy or not?

“Universal Credit is a nightmare. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“Everything is online and it’s so hard work.

“It could end up where they would want me to live in a high rise flat, but I did that for two years when I was 18 and I’m not going back to that.

“I don’t know what (other work) I will be doing in future, but I’ll be doing something.”

Lesley says she will be glad when it’s all over – and she can then start to plan for a fresh start in the New Year.

“My sister, Sally, has invited me to go to Ross-on-Wye for Christmas.

“But I can’t be bothered.

“I don’t really like Christmas anyway, so I’ll be glad when it’s all over and everything gets back to normal.

“It goes on for months now, not just one day.”

A Birmingham Live reporter said: “We begin our chat inside the potato trailer, but it’s part of the conditions that it has to be moved by 3.30pm.

“So I take Lesley up to Caffè Nero on Waterloo Street to continue talking more privately than we could have done in the more cramped local cafes on Cherry Street.

“As she recalls how lucky she has been to recover so well, Lesley looks up to the window.

“Tears begin to roll down her cheeks as the realises the enormity of what has happened to her.”

“Excuse me,” she says. “In all my time in hospital, I didn’t cry once… nothing major, nothing major at all.”

The Birmingham Live reporter added: “Within minutes the tears have done her good and she’s back to her old self again.

“Laughing. Joking. Smiling. Wonderfully scatty, too.

“And more than happy to be here.”

The daughter of a decorator, she has spent a lifetime doing various jobs including working in various mental health facilities, with the disabled and with children who have had behavioural issues.

She has lived in Sheldon, Perry Barr and Bromford and worked in places like Castle Bromwich, Olton and the city centre.

Her first long-term relationship produced daughter Lauren and after moving on she has now been with ‘my fellah Malcolm for 17 years’.

“I have never had any plans to get married, for me there’s no point,” she says.

“I know so many people who have got divorced.

“I sold my house a couple of years and am living in three different places each week – Dudley, Hay Mills and Oldbury – including a couple of nights with Malcolm.

“The help I’ve had from friends is going to help to keep me off benefits.”

Lauren wrote on her Crowdfunding page: “I have to return to Iceland to work and pay my bills.

“But I would like to come back to see my mom every few weeks, and I will need help financially to do that.”

By 6th April, 56 supporters had raised £1,715 in 56 days to help her to visit her mother.

A daughter’s love, and a titanium skull, means that Lesley can now look forward to 2019 once again.

Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/jacket-potato-lady-birmingham-crash-15300744