How Great Northern station assistant saved a person's life with a defibrillator at Potters Bar

Relief station assistant Curtis Cassell saved a passenger's life with this defibrillator at Potters Bar station.

Relief station assistant Curtis Cassell saved a passenger's life with this defibrillator at Potters Bar station. - Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)

A station assistant has spoken about how he used a defibrillator to save a passenger’s life at Potters Bar.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which operates Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern services, has installed publicly-accessible, life-saving automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at every one of its 238 stations in the largest roll-out of heart restarters on the UK’s rail network.

Relief station assistant Curtis Cassell, who works at all Great Northern stations between Knebworth and Harringay, has already used one of the devices at Potters Bar to save a man's life.

Lifesaver Curtis, 50, was trained in CPR by GTR and familiarised with the simplicity of using automated defibrillators.

He was working in the Potters Bar ticket office on a cold February day last year when, late in the morning, a passenger shouted to him that someone had collapsed outside the front of the station. 

“I ran out and saw the customer on the floor. He was older, in his 60s and someone I recognised as a regular," said Curtis.

"My first instinct was to check his breathing. He wasn’t, so I stripped off his shirt and started CPR.” 

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A passer-by cradled the man's head and Curtis told his colleague, David Tharby, who had called 999, to grab the defibrillator.

It was only a few yards away, positioned on the outside of the station by GTR to be available for use by the community. 

“I started to follow the defibrillator's instructions. It shocked him and told me to carry on with CPR.

"He was not responding so it shocked him again. This happened four times over 15 to 20 minutes. 

“My adrenaline was going. I’m thinking, ‘Is he going to come through? Is he passing away in my hands?’

"When I saw he was responding it was, ‘Oh my God!’ It was a great relief. Words can’t express that one.” 

Curtis Cassell (left) and Thameslink and Great Northern managing director Tom Moran at Potters Bar station.

Lifesaving relief station assistant Curtis Cassell (left) and Thameslink and Great Northern managing director Tom Moran at Potters Bar station. - Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)

After the fourth shock, the man vomited and started breathing. Around this time paramedics arrived and took over.

The man was airlifted to hospital where, Curtis was later told, he remained in a coma for 10 days. 

“I spoke to him a few weeks later – he was travelling through the station, from Potters Bar to Hatfield.

"My colleague said to me, ‘Do you remember that guy? That’s the guy you saved.' I went up to him. He said thank you, but he didn’t know what had happened to him. All he knew was he had woken up in hospital. 

“I keep on thinking about it – what if he hadn’t come around?

"If there had not been a defibrillator, I don’t know what would have happened – I would think the worst.” 

AEDs have been installed across the GTR network as part of a wider £15m stations improvement programme which involves over 1,000 projects, many suggested by local passenger and community groups.

More than 30,000 people suffer cardiac arrest out of hospital across the UK every year, and fewer than one in 10 survive.

However, early chest compressions (CPR) and defibrillation can double the chances of surviving.

Relief station assistant Curtis Cassell with Arline Hursey, of the charity Defibrillators in Public Places.

Relief station assistant Curtis Cassell, who used this defibrillator at Potters Bar station to save the life of a passenger. He's pictured here with Arline Hursey, of the charity Defibrillators in Public Places (DiPPs). - Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway

Welwyn Garden City mum Arline Hursey lost her 18-year-old son, James, to a sudden cardiac arrest in 2015 and set up the national campaign group Defibrillators in Public Places (DiPPs).

Arline said: “James was a gentle giant at 6ft 4in with a wicked sense of humour and an all-encompassing hug.

"His loss was a devastating blow to his family, friends and his community.

“As time is of the essence when it comes to someone suffering from a cardiac arrest, we want to raise awareness and demonstrate to people the ease of using defibrillators within the first couple of minutes.

"Our vision is for everyone to be able to access a defibrillator within four minutes. It is a vital piece of equipment to saving the lives of our loved ones.”

British Heart Foundation Senior Cardiac Nurse and Arline Hursey of Defibrillators in Public Places

British Heart Foundation senior cardiac nurse Chloe MacArthur and Arline Hursey, of Defibrillators in Public Places, demonstrate CPR and the use of a defibrillator on the platform at Potters Bar station. - Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)

Chloe MacArthur, a London senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, demonstrated the simplicity of using the station’s AED at Potters Bar.

Chloe said: “We’re thrilled that Govia Thameslink will now have defibrillators in all of its train stations – currently in the UK, it’s estimated that defibrillators are used in less than one in 10 out of hospital cardiac arrests.

"Quick access to a defibrillator is vital as every minute without CPR or defibrillation reduces the chances of survival by 10 per cent.

"By installing defibrillators at train stations, Govia Thameslink is making an important contribution in the fight to improve survival rates.”

How do automated external defibrillators (AEDs) work?

Southern, Great Northern and Thameslink now have publicly accessible life-saving defibrillators at all their 238 stations

Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern now have publicly accessible life-saving defibrillators at all their 238 stations - Credit:

AEDs are portable devices that check the patient’s heart rhythm. If a problem is detected, they send an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm.

If a person does not need the shock of an AED, the machine will not deliver a shock.

No formal training is necessary to operate an AED in a medical emergency as they “talk” the operator through the necessary steps.

Sam Facey, Head of Zero Harm in the safety & health team at Great Northern parent company GTR, said: “By fitting these life-saving AEDs, we believe we’ve made a genuinely positive contribution to the communities across our vast network, which covers London and nine counties.

“All our defibrillators are publicly accessible, so of huge benefit not only to those travelling with us but also the communities we serve.

"They’re fully automatic – anyone can use them – and our staff are being given familiarisation training.”

The AEDs are ‘smart’, giving verbal instructions and then shocking a patient only if they need it.

They also use remote monitoring to sound the alert on dying batteries or out-of-date chest pads and all the cabinets are being wired in – to keep them warm and ready to go.

Sam added: “We’re fitting the same model across our network to provide consistency of quality, staff familiarity and maintenance, and at some stations, where we were updating an existing AED, we’ve been able to return the original device to local charities for use at a second location in the community."