Arkansas Airman fixes hospital equipment in Guatemala

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jessica Condit
  • 189th Airlift Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard
Throughout a week-long medical readiness training exercise, 30 Airmen from the 189th Airlift Wing and 188th Wing saw more than 2,000 patients. While that number is a feat in 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. Guilliams helped the punlic hospital fix more than eight pieces of equipment, including three ventilators in the neonatal intensive care unit.

"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,” Guilliams said. “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. This changes the way you look at healthcare and the hospitals you have at home."

With more than 16 million people living in Guatemala, healthcare is a hot commodity. While many people are in need of healthcare, they have difficulties affording private healthcare. 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 and medical supplies to do so. Unfortunately, this is a common instance in the Guatemalan public healthcare system.

While Guilliams was replacing the ventilators, one nurse explained that the repairs could help bring down the NICU’s 75 percent mortality rate.

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. By finding everything within the community, Guilliams not only fixed the equipment but taught hospital staff how to repair the equipment should it need maintenance in the future. While the equipment was dated, the team worked diligently to ensure maintenance workers were able to care for and maintain the machines, even showing the workers 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. The people who work in this hospital come into working with nothing and still do their best to genuinely help people each day. When we brought the working equipment back to them, the genuine thankfulness was gratifying. Being able to take the wealth we have in America and sharing that with somebody who doesn't have that, is big to me."

While Guilliams and Darnall are finished with the exercise, their plans for future support continue. From fundraisers to equipment collection, the pair are currently brainstorming ideas to provide more support for hospitals similar to the one the two visited in Guatemala. One idea is training hospital staff to fix equipment on their own, effectively removing the Band-Aid to create a permanent solution.

Guilliams said he hopes to have a special team designated to work on biomedical equipment technician projects within the local hospitals wherever the next Guatemala medical readiness training exercise takes the Arkansas Air National Guard.