Public health Airman fixes medical equipment, NICU ventilators at Guatemala hospital
By Tech. Sgt. Jessica Condit, 189th Airlift Wing
/ Published January 08, 2019
RETALHULEU, Guatemala -- Throughout out a week-long medical readiness training exercise, 30 Airmen from the 189th Airlift Wing and 188th Wing treated more than 2,000 patients. While that number is a feat in and of itself, one Airman used his knowledge to support the local community in a different way.
Walking into a dusty neonatal intensive care unit, windows open, at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Master Sgt. Colton Guilliams, the 189th AW noncommissioned officer in charge of public health, used the skills he learned previously as a biomedical equipment technician to support the local hospital, Hospital Nacional De Retalhuleu, in Retalhuleu, Guatemala. The public hospital used the assistance of Guilliams to fix eight pieces of equipment, including three ventilators in the NICU.
“I love every aspect of this job. From the biggest thing, to the tiniest things, you get to work on everything,” Guilliams said. “I just want to use my skills to the best of my ability and using them to help somebody else, especially in an area where there aren’t people who have the same skills. That has a huge impact. I am blessed with the ability to be able to do this and teach the people who work at the hospital new things.”
With more than 16 million people in Guatemala, healthcare is a hot commodity. The hospital sees hundreds of patients each day and often must turn away people because of the number of requests or the inability to provide assistance because of a lack of equipment or medical supplies to do so. When replacing the ventilators in the NICU, one nurse explained that there is a 75 percent mortality rate in the NICU and that these would surely help bring that number down.
Guilliams, along with Master Sgt. William Darnall, the 189th Medical Group first sergeant, drove around the city of Retalhuleu searching for parts and supplies for the hospital. Finding everything within the community, Guilliams not only fixed the equipment but taught hospital staff how to repair the equipment and where they could buy parts.
“This all goes back to wanting to help people,” Darnall said. “That’s the best part of it. I’ve been in medical since high school. Being able to take care of and help people is a great feeling. That’s what the medical career field is all about. Taking care of patients and people to the best of your ability. When we brought the working equipment back to them, the genuine thankfulness was gratifying.”
Guilliams and Darnall said they are planning ways to continue helping hospitals in need. From fundraisers to equipment collection, the pair are currently thinking of creative ideas to provide even more support for hospitals similar to the one visited in Guatemala. They would also like to somehow provide training for hospital staff to fix their own equipment as a permanent solution. Guilliams said he hopes to have a special team designated to work on [biomedical engineering technology] projects within the local hospitals wherever the next Guatemala MEDRETE takes the Arkansas Air National Guard.
Guilliams’ skills earned him the nickname “MacGyver” with the hospital staff. He uses the knowledge and skills he learned from the Air Force and his civilian job to indirectly save lives.