Finding Strength in Our Own Stories: Advocating for Patient Safety

People often receive care at the hospital during the worst time of their lives. They may be in pain, fearing what’s ahead, and seeking comfort and understanding from medical professionals, who serve as a beacon of light, a source of information and stability in rocky times. 

That was the case for one patient in particular at the University of New Mexico Hospital, who arrived in the ICU for pulmonary artery hypertension, a planned admission, as she required medication for her condition before she could start a round of chemotherapy. She was experiencing unimaginable hardships, and since she had a history of drug use, walking in, she was ready to feel judged. — to feel belittled and cast aside as judgment for her past substance abuse. 

When she first locked eyes with the nurse on her unit, Preston Rel, things felt tense. Her guard was up, and she felt hopeless. “She said she was done —- ready to tap out. After everything she’d been through, she was ready to let cancer win,” Preston told us. 

Preston responded with compassion. He struck up a conversation with her, even sharing his own history of substance abuse, and insisting she had more life left to live. 

Looking back on it, Preston believes what resonated with her was that someone cared. After her drug use and a subsequent prison sentence, her family told her she deserved her cancer diagnosis. “It didn’t even cross my mind to judge her,” Preston shared.  

Preston’s above and beyond care of and compassion for that patient led her to nominate him for a DAISY Award. The two are still in contact today.

Preston Rel, DAISY Award Honoree

Advocating for patient safety after tragedy strikes  

Preston has been a nurse since 2018, joining the profession after tragedy struck his own family. In 2008, his only sibling, his a 10 year-old brother, died due to medical error after a tonsil surgery. Preston, 16 at the time, said he went down the wrong path afterward. After years of struggling, he chose to redeem himself and his story by becoming a nurse, focusing on patient safety, and vowing to do his part in stopping medical errors from taking more lives. 

“I didn’t want anyone to experience what my family and I had been through. And that’s the hardest part of the job — there are mistakes. And there’s not always transparency in healthcare. So I work with my patients to be completely honest, and care.” — Preston Rel

After his family’s struggle, they worked with actor Dennis Quaid to produce the documentary “Chasing Zero: Winning the War on Healthcare Harm.” As a result, Preston’s dedication for nursing and patient safety was born. 

Preston’s ultimate goal is to be a patient safety advocate, traveling to hospitals around the country to share the importance of preventing medical errors, and help reignite fellow nurses’ passion for healthcare. 

Working today in the Medical-Cardiac Intensive Care unit, he fuses his medical knowledge with a love of motivation, inspiration, and kindness with every person in his care. 

“I believe no one should ever give up on themselves. I was given a chance to redeem myself, and I want people who are thinking about quitting to keep going, keep pushing.” — Preston Rel

Seeing patients as people, not metrics to be met 

When asked about his unique approach to nursing, Preston says putting patients first is his top priority. He recognizes he often sees people at the worst times of their lives, and never feels irritated by them or annoyed when they make requests of him. 

“I see them as a person who deserves compassion. My mission is to see them not as a number or a bed, but as a person, a valuable being who belongs in this world.” — Preston Rel

The patients he works with remember Preston, too. Once while getting his morning coffee, he was approached by a man experiencing homelessness, who asked Preston for some spare change. As he went to provide some, the man stopped in his tracks. “Wait. You took care of me,” he said. Preston was reminded of the case, when the man had come into the hospital after a car accident. His legs had been crushed, and he was told he’d never walk again. “They were wrong,” the man said. “Look what I can do!” he continued, jumping, running, and sharing his joy after being in Preston’s care. 

“It was like a little kid who had just gotten a new pair of shoes, so amazing. I love when patients can find strength in themselves and just keep going,” Preston said. 

Patient safety is everyone’s responsibility

When he’s off the clock, Preston likes to spend time outdoors and with his family. He’s also working on a podcast, “Through My Eyes,” focused on sharing his story, and those of overcoming all odds to find meaning in life and nursing. 

“Nursing is the job of compassion, and we need our patients just as much as they need us.” — Preston Rel

Preston is passionate about empowering patients to take part in their own care. He believes patients and their families are the first line of defense in preventing medical errors, and taking an active role in care is key to healthy outcomes. “Patients know their own bodies the best, and oftentimes they’re right when they think something is off,” he says. 

When asked about his best advice for up-and-coming nurses, Preston remained true to his mission: “Make people feel like they matter. Because they do.” 

About The DAISY Award

The DAISY Award is a recognition program run by the non-profit organization The DAISY Foundation™ (an acronym for Diseases Attacking the Immune SYstem), which seeks to honor nurses at any stage of their careers, in any role, and in any setting. 

This includes student and faculty awards, team awards, nurse leader awards, lifetime achievement awards, and even awards honoring those nurses specifically addressing social determinants of health. All of this is done in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, who died from complications of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura in 1999 but received exceptional nursing care during his illness.

For more on The DAISY Award, please visit The DAISY Foundation’s website. Nominations can be submitted at the healthcare facility or via using Get Well’s best practice rounding tool, Rounds+. To make a nomination for a specific nurse who has provided compassionate care, complete the online nomination form today.

Read our other Get Well DAISY Honoree spotlight stories: