When Dr. Teri Wahlig thinks about her first interest in medicine, she remembers her mother cleaning up a neighborhood kid’s scraped knee at their home in West Des Moines. 

Since then, Wahlig has cared for more than scraped knees. After seven years as the chief medical director for ChildServe, she assumed the role as the nonprofit’s CEO on July 1. 

“What I admire about the people who have influenced me is they have strong values and a character that is more considerate of others than sometimes themselves,” Wahlig said. “They truly are compassionate and care about other people. … That’s a strong way to influence people, is through your character and how much you care about others.”

Wahlig was introduced to ChildServe when she was still working in neonatology, and says the organization’s mission — serving children with unique, ongoing medical treatment needs — aligned with her personal goals of caring for each families’ spirit, as well as their child’s physical treatment.

“I think what really attracted me early in my career [in] neonatology was the high-tech nature, you know, pushing the envelope and caring for critically ill and premature infants is kind of intense. That drew me in,” Wahlig said. “What I grew to love ... is the connections with families and being with them during some of the most joyous times, but also some of the most overwhelming and difficult times.  

“I had a pediatrician tell me one time, and I think it’s so true, ‘You never are as close to death as you are the first moment of life,’ ” Wahlig added. “Those moments are probably some of the most life-changing moments for me, as they are for families.” 

ChildServe offers inpatient and outpatient programs for children, and a pediatric inpatient rehabilitation unit that serves as the next step for families with children who have sustained injuries that require intensive rehabilitation to walk, speak or rebuild functions like feeding themselves. The organization serves nearly 5,000 children each year, and to Wahlig, there is no typical child.

“I think we’re on track to be serving about 10,000 children a year by our 100th anniversary, which is in 2028,” she said. 

As the new CEO, Wahlig wants to see ChildServe build on its base of collaboration with families and children being served, and enhancing the pediatric rehabilitation, complex medical program and behavioral health program. 

As always, her focus will be on the families and kids. 

“I love to see how they do after they grow up,” Wahlig said. 

“The babies and the children influence me, and I think I become a better person when I allow that to happen, and tap into that.” 

Areas of Influence:

  • She has been pioneering palliative care integration in the treatment of young patients since her time as a neonatologist at Mercy Medical Center. Palliative and hospice care change the care of life-threatening conditions from prolonging life at all costs to enhancing the patient’s quality of life, “no matter how long that life may be,” Wahlig said. 
  • She has been a longtime volunteer with ChildServe, and became the company’s first full-time medical director in 2011. She began her new role as ChildServe CEO on July 1, taking over from retiring CEO Lloyd VanderKwaak. 
  • She is chairwoman of the YMCA Board of Directors and sits on the Dowling Catholic Foundation board. She previously served on the board of Tiny Hands Foundation.