Interactive Robot Ducks Help Comfort Children Undergoing Treatment

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by Patricia Inacio PhD |

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Robotic ducks were delivered recently as comfort companions to children with sickle cell disease (SCD) at the Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper in South Jersey.

The life-sized cuddly robot, called “My Special Aflac Duck,” were made available free to children, 3 and older, in a new collaboration between the supplemental insurance provider Aflac and Cooper.

“On behalf of The Cooper Foundation, we commend Aflac for their commitment to children’s health by making My Special Aflac Duck available to young sickle cell patients free of charge,” Robert Ortiz, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer of The Cooper Foundation, said in a press release. “The benefits of Aflac’s corporate generosity to our patients and their families will be immeasurable.”

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In 2018, Aflac collaborated with “My Special Duck” creator Sproutel, a patient-centered research and development company, to help children with cancer or blood disorders like SCD. Since then, more than 15,000 ducks have been delivered to more than 300 hospitals and disease-focused organizations.

Early this year, the duck was further adapted for SCD children. This included the addition of an app and a blanket, and medical “play” accessories. The duck’s interactive app allows children to experience the animal’s virtual world and have access to art therapy and topics to help them manage their disease.

“Every year, nearly 200 children receive care through Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper’s sickle cell program,” said Michael H. Goodman, MD, chair and chief of pediatrics at Cooper. “We know that doctor visits and hospitalizations can be overwhelming for these children.”

“These specially designed interactive ducks will be calming companions and enhance the overall experience of our young patients,” said Goodman, who is also a professor of pediatrics at Rowan University’s Cooper Medical School.

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“Feeling cards” have also been added to the furry companion to help children communicate their emotions. Ducks also come with soothing sounds, such as those emanating from the ocean, forest, or farm, that are meant for use in distraction therapy.

“Sickle cell is an underfunded, often painful disease that impacts 100,000 Americans, including 1 in 365 Black children born every year,” said Michael DeSarno, Aflac’s Southern New Jersey regional sales coordinator. “We are pleased to work with Children’s Regional Hospital and The Cooper Foundation to ensure that children facing sickle cell disease receive their very own My Special Aflac Duck, which, through medical play, helps deliver comfort to children and their families during difficult times.”