Dr. Ashlea Cardin Chosen as 10th Annual Walentik Leadership Awardee



Media contact:
Courtney Stewart
Missouri Foundation for Health
(314) 345-5505

ST. LOUIS, MO (November 17, 2022) – This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Dr. Corinne Walentik Leadership in Health Award. On Thursday, December 16, 2022, recipient Dr. Ashlea Cardin will be honored during Missouri Foundation for Health’s annual dinner*, hosted by its Board of Directors.

Dr. Cardin is a practicing pediatric occupational therapist with 22 years of experience in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Mercy Kids Hospital in Springfield. She is also a board-certified pediatrician (AOTA) and a certified neonatal therapist (NTNCB). For the past 16 years, Dr. Cardin has provided in-home, pro-bono pediatric occupational therapy services to the local Amish communities in Webster County, Missouri. She currently serves as an associate professor at Missouri State University.

The Walentik award was created to honor the late Dr. Walentik’s commitment to serving those living in the most challenging situations, specifically children. Each year the award is presented to a health leader in Missouri who exemplifies the passion, dedication, and energy that Walentik brought to her work. This year’s recipient shares that commitment.

“All Missouri infants and families deserve a fair and just opportunity to access quality health care regardless of ZIP code or cultural practices. Dr. Cardin nobly serves and supports our Amish communities, and she embodies the spirit of Corrine Walentik’s work,” said Dr. Dwayne Proctor, MFH President and CEO. “We’re excited to honor her.”

Dr. Cardin’s passion for shaping the pediatric care experience is personal – she underwent treatment for bone and foot issues for most of her childhood. While she received excellent care, none of it was geared toward kids or their families. There was no liaison between the medical world and home life to set expectations for her parents.

“My mom was afraid for me to do cartwheels,” she said. She noted that conversations with the care team always centered on weaknesses. “If I can alleviate the fear of one parent and help them understand the child’s strengths – that is what I want to do.”

A native of Springfield, Missouri, Dr. Cardin is comfortable outdoors and on farms. That, combined with her conversational German, helped her build trust with the Amish community in Seymour, Missouri, although they speak a different German dialect. Soon, families would ask for her by name whenever they came for care.

She first encountered the Swiss Amish community while treating infants in intensive care.

“It’s stressful when you understand the system when your infant is in NICU. The chasm between what family life looks like between the two populations was almost too much for families to bear,” said Dr. Cardin.

That relationship led to Cardin regularly making the 90-minute round-trip drive from her home in the Ozarks to help people at the Seymour clinic. She has also driven families to other appointments. Those trips ground to a halt during the pandemic, as the Amish did not opt into COVID-19 vaccinations. She pivoted to making phone calls when possible and mailing information to clients. “We took a 20-year step back,” she said.

Once she was vaccinated, Dr. Cardin asked permission to resume visits while masked. Asking that permission ties into the idea of “cultural humility” that she strives for in her work. “I can only serve them best by recognizing the power differentials in the situation. I’m ‘English’ (a term that Amish use to refer to anyone who is not), I have specialized knowledge. It’s more than making sure I’m observing cultural norms around how I dress or interact. I never lose track of the idea that I am given permission to be there. I am absolutely humbled,” she said.

Dr. Cardin chose Amish Outreach Medical Clinic in Seymour, MO as her charity. When asked about her future over the next 10 years, she mentioned expanding services and the footprint of the Amish Outreach clinic. As part of Dr. Cardin’s award, the clinic will receive $25,000, which supports that goal. She hopes visiting physicians and students would come gain experience in delivering rural health care while offering expanded services to Amish families that typically live separately and eschew technology in their daily life.

When she reflects on how her definition of health care has evolved, Dr. Cardin says that her work with the Amish in Seymour made her realize that physicians can partner at group, system, and population levels. “You have to be willing to advocate in those spaces to really make a difference at a personal level. It’s a wonderful, creative, fulfilling puzzle.”

About Missouri Foundation for Health
Missouri Foundation for Health is building a more equitable future through collaboration, convening, knowledge sharing, and strategic investment. Working in partnership with communities and nonprofits, MFH is transforming systems to eliminate inequities within all aspects of health and addressing the social and economic factors that shape health outcomes.

*Please note that the annual dinner is not open to the public.