A mother, father, and baby pose for a happy family photo

There are three keys to surviving a pandemic: passion for your work and helping your community, staying positive, and keeping family close. That’s according to Ball State alumnus Dave and Madriane (Pugsley) Klein, a married couple who are first responders in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A nurse is wearing a face shield and a mask over her nose and mouth
Madriane became a nurse because she wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the couple has been juggling daunting time commitments to their frontline jobs—she’s a trauma ICU nurse at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline and he is a Deputy U.S. Marshal—all while taking care of their 8-month old son.

“It’s been a rough time at my hospital since this started back in March,” says Madriane, who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Ball State in 2010.

“It started out slowly and then the COVID unit started to get full in late June. It just hit with a fury. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) recently flew in additional nurses to help us out, but supplies are still limited.”

As of July 9, there were 332 patients hospitalized and 93 in the ICU in the Corpus Christi area, according to health district data. 

“Every day I go in and hope for the best,” she said. “My job is to take care of people no matter what. That is what I signed up for because you know that, as a nurse, you might be exposed to something. It’s always in the back of your mind.

When I was attending Ball State, studying pre-pharmacy, my grandmother became gravely ill and was in the ICU for several weeks. I saw the impact nurses make on people’s lives. My goal became to be the same type of nurse I witnessed helping my family.

Madriane changed her major and worked with the School of Nursing to achieve her goal. She is thankful for all professors that helped her to be the nurse she is today.

 “It is rewarding to do this every day.”

Juggling priorities

As a deputy U.S. marshal in the Southern District of Texas, Dave often works with the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders and Fugitive Task Force, assigned to apprehend some of the country’s and state’s most dangerous fugitives.

“We deal with some very bad people. And, we don’t know their health backgrounds. I’ve caught tuberculosis and scarlet fever on the job.”

Now, in the age of COVID-19, “We have completely changed our tactics.”

“We still catch the fugitive and then transport them—all as safely as possible. But we get our mission done no matter the circumstances.”

He’s used to juggling priorities. For many years, Dave was taking college courses at Ball State between assignments with the U.S. Air Force in Iraq.

“I always wanted to be a U.S. marshal ever since I was a kid,” said Dave, who hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and criminology in 2007.

“It is a very rewarding job. We aren’t going after petty thieves but the worst of the worst.”

“These are bad guys wanted for murder and other horrific crimes. So, when we bring in one of these guys, it brings closure to a family who lost a loved one. With all the stress and uncertainty going on, it helps families in their quest for justice.”

Keeping family close

While Dave and Madriane are battling the pandemic in very different roles, they make a point to work closely as a team in raising their son, Bryce.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Since the pandemic started, the couple have lost their babysitter and the backup. And, there are no family members near them to help out. They work around each other’s schedules so that at least one of them is with their son at all times.

The end of a typical workday requires each of them to come home, undress in the garage, and put clothing in the washing machine with disinfectants. They also use disinfectant spray on their vehicles and clean their phones, finishing up with showers before finally greeting each other and their child.

“It’s just the two of us and there have been some tough times with no family around,” Dave said. “It hurts to have to walk past my son to go change clothes because I cannot touch him until I am clean. He looks up totally confused. Now, that is tough.”

Because of their work, made more demanding due to the pandemic, the couple has fewer opportunities for family time. And the pandemic offers another challenge.

Bryce spent his first week in an intensive care nursery and returned to the hospital two weeks later with a high fever. The couple admits the possibility of exposing their son to COVID-19 is scary since the youngster is more susceptible due to the respiratory and heart health issues he was born with.

A mother’s concern

The last few months also have been tough for Deb Howell, an alumna and assistant director of Ball State’s Office of Information Security Services. She’s Madriane’s mom, Dave’s mother-in-law, and the proud grandmother of Bryce.

A bride and groom pose in a garden environment
Dave and Madriane on their wedding day in 2018, held at Minnetrista in Muncie.

She admits it’s been tough not having Dave and Madriane close to home these past few years since they relocated to Texas. She recalls beaming with joy when the couple exchanged their wedding vows at Muncie’s Minnetrista Cultural Center Rose Garden in 2018.

These days, Howell closely follows news about recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Corpus Christi and arrests in that part of Texas.

“I know they are often exhausted,” said Howell, who earned both her bachelor’s (computer science) and master of arts from Ball State. “Madriane has to juggle workdays while Dave leaves for days at a time while serving in the Air Force–Air National Guard.”

 “Getting a nap is a luxury for them. As a deputy U.S. marshal, Dave can be called out for arrests of a very serious nature, leaving Madriane up with baby feedings and worrying about her husband throughout the night. That’s after working a 12- to 13-hour day herself.”

At the same time, Howell is proud of the couple and the work they do for their state, their community, and their family.

 “I know my daughter’s patients have one of the most knowledgeable, compassionate and caring nurses they could ever ask for. Madriane holds her patients’ hands when their family cannot because of COVID-19, and she is often the last person her patients see before they pass.”

As a mother and grandmother, she also worries about them being there alone because Corpus Christi is in a crisis due to the pandemic. The city has been hit hard, with local hospitals overflowing with patients. “There is no way I can truly express all my emotions when I see the courage and sacrifice Madriane and Dave go through every day to protect others before themselves. It makes my heart swell with pride … along with a few tears.”