Aflac Expands Distribution of Social Robot to Help Kids with Sickle Cell Disease

COLUMBUS, Ga. (PRNewswire) — Sickle cell disease impacts more than 100,000 Americans, primarily affecting African Americans and many who are children.

Saxton (l) with twin brother Sawyer (r), a sickle cell disease patient at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in Atlanta, hold My Special Aflac Duck, for which Aflac is now taking orders from health care providers to provide to their patients with sickle cell disease nationwide, free of charge.

Seeing the effects of this disease and the need to help provide comfort to those who suffer from it, Aflac – a leading provider of supplemental insurance in the U.S. and committed ally to children with cancer and blood disorders – created a new version of its award-winning My Special Aflac Duck and has begun distribution to children who have this painful disease.

“We are excited to expand the My Special Aflac Duck program, particularly as the sickle cell community is underserved and the disease itself is underfunded. This terrible disease often robs children of a ‘normal’ childhood, causes great pain, and can even lead to premature death,” said Aflac Executive Vice President and General Counsel Audrey Boone Tillman. “My Special Aflac Duck has done an incredible job helping provide comfort to children with cancer, and we are confident that it will provide the same reassurance to kids with sickle cell. These families need help, and if Aflac can help provide some measure of relief, we are ready to take on that mission.”

The social robot was originally designed to help children throughout their journey with cancer, and to date Aflac has delivered, free of charge, more than 13,000 ducks to children with cancer. With 1-in-365 Black children born with sickle cell disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Aflac took on the challenge of devising ways to modify the My Special Aflac Duckto include accessories and a corresponding app that serve the special needs of kids with this illness.

In 2020, Aflac partnered with My Special Aflac Duck creator Sproutel, a patient-centered research and development company that initiated new research aimed at adapting My Special Aflac Duck for children with sickle cell, including a pilot program conducted at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, involving parents, children and health care providers.

The research-based adaptations include a special blanket for each child’s My Special Aflac Duck, as children with sickle cell disease are often susceptible to temperature changes. Their duck’s blanket doubles as an art canvas and comes with a water-soluble marker that kids can use to draw on the blanket.

It also includes new medical play accessories that are specific to the needs of kids with sickle cell. An enhanced digital experience includes adaptations to the interactive app that focus on art therapy and issues like hydration to help teach young patients how to stay healthy while managing their symptoms.

“The inclusion of My Special Aflac Duck for our patients with sickle cell disease is a welcomed addition to our program,” said Dr. Tamara New, medical director for the Sickle Cell Program at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston Hospital. “Children with sickle cell disease deal with a unique set of circumstances, including a stigma that can impact mental and emotional health as well as physical health. My Special Aflac Duck is a companion that encourages them to do the things that they might not always want to do, but that they need to do from a health care perspective.”

My Special Aflac Duck is distributed through The Aflac Childhood Cancer Foundation Inc. Doctors, nurses, child life specialists, social workers or other health care professionals and non-profits can order them for children with sickle cell disease or cancer by going to Aflac.com/myspecialrequest. To find out more about Aflac’s commitment to helping children with sickle cell disease, go to myspecialaflacduck.com/sicklecell.