‘Aflac Duck’ Robots Delivered at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital

Event marks National Sickle Cell Awareness and Childhood Cancer Awareness months

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by Mary Chapman |

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To help bring awareness this month to sickle cell disease (SCD) and childhood cancers, the supplemental insurance provider Aflac recently engaged young patients with those disorders at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in south Florida through its My Special Aflac Duck social robot program.

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, as well as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. To mark both initiatives and raise awareness about these conditions, Aflac and Nicklaus hosted a special event during which the robot ducks were delivered and unboxed.

Several hospitalized children received the cuddly, life-sized robotic companions as gifts. The robot ducks are designed to play, interact, and provide comfort and relief to children who are living with SCD and cancer.

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“Aflac is a committed ally to children with cancer and blood disorders, and we continue to make it our mission to expand the reach of My Special Aflac Duck to help bring young patients and their families comfort and joy in the moments they need it most,” Ines Rodriguez Gutzmer, vice president of strategic communications at Aflac, said in a press release.

“We are proud to provide this award-winning offering, free of charge, to Miami-based families facing these diseases and to see the smiles on their faces as they welcome a new friend on their journey,” Gutzmer said.

The social robot debuted in 2018 as part of Aflac’s 27-year, $161 million commitment to pediatric blood disorders, including SCD, as well as childhood cancers. Since then, Aflac has donated more than 17,000 robots to some 450 hospitals and organizations. Healthcare professionals and nonprofit groups can order the ducks for free for sickle cell or cancer patients ages 3 and older.

The robot was created originally to help young cancer patients. Earlier this year, Aflac expanded the program to include children with SCD, which affects more than 100,000 U.S. residents.  Two years ago, Aflac worked with the duck’s creator, Sproutel, to collaborate with patients, parents, and healthcare providers in a pilot project to modify the robot for SCD patients. Sproutel is a patient-centered research and development company.

Because children with SCD are commonly affected by temperature changes, those modifications include the addition of a blanket, upon which children can draw with a (provided) water-soluble marker. Other adaptations include medical “play” accessories and an interactive app that homes in on art therapy and topics such as hydration that help children with disease management.

More Aflac Duck features

The duck also features customizable soundscapes, smart sensors that promote touch and light and sound awareness, and seven “feeling” emoji discs the young patients can use to express emotions.

“We are honored to join forces with Aflac and take part in the My Special Aflac Duck program as a way to further support our young patients receiving treatment for cancer and sickle cell disease,” said Jennifer McCafferty-Fernandez, PhD, senior vice president of external affairs and chief of staff at Nicklaus Children’s Health System. “We know these fun and cuddly companions are sure to enhance the care experience for the children and families we serve.”

In May, ducks were delivered to SCD patients at the Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper in New Jersey. The following month, Aflac gave $100,000 to Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., to support SCD research.