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Arkansas Airman fixes hospital equipment in Guatemala

Master Sgt. Colton Guilliams, the 189th Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge of public health, troubleshoots one of the three ventilators brought in from the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital in Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Guilliams is a drill status Guard member who works as a biomedical technician in his civilian capacity.

Master Sgt. Colton Guilliams, the 189th Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge of public health, troubleshoots one of the three ventilators brought in from the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital in Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Guilliams is a drill status Guard member who works as a biomedical technician in his civilian capacity.

RETALHULEU, Guatemala -- Throughout the 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. The public hospital used the assistance of Guilliams to fix more than eight pieces of equipment, including 3 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. This changes the way you look at healthcare and the hospitals you have at home."

With more than 16 million people who live 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. 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 should in 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 them 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 MEDRETE, their plans for future support continue. From fundraisers to equipment collection, the pair are currently thinking of creative ideas to provide even more support for hospitals similar to the one the two visited in Guatemala. Other ideas the two have are training hospital staff to fix the equipment on their own, effectively removing the Band-Aid to create a permanent solution. Guilliams expressed that his hope is to have a special team designated to work on BMET projects within the local hospitals wherever the next Guatemala MEDRETE takes the Arkansas Air National Guard.

Guilliams' specialty skills earned him the affectionate nickname of "MacGyver" with the hospital staff. The fictional hero Angus MacGuyver uses his creativity and scientific acumen to save lives while Guilliams uses the skills and knowledge he obtained from the Air Force as well as in his civilian capacity to indirectly save lives.