My Special Aflac Duck brings joy to Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s cancer patients

Nkechi Mba, MD, Medical Director, Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Driscoll Children’s Hospital, and oncology patient RT Sanchez play with the My Special Aflac Duck, a gift from the national insurance company.

CORPUS CHRISTI – Driscoll Children’s Hospital oncology patient RT Sanchez wasn’t sure what to think when Child Life Specialist Leah Nawrocki said she had a surprise for him.

The surprise? A talking/quacking robotic duck from national insurance company Aflac specifically designed to help oncology patients deal with and better understand their medical treatment.

“What do you have on your chest?” Nawrocki asked RT. “A port,” 3-year-old RT answered as Nawrocki showed him that the duck could have a MediPort too.

RT immediately took a shine to the duck, even coming up with a name for him: Ducky.
“It’s going to be so special to him. RT is going to love taking care of Ducky,” said his mom, Rosemary Canizal.

“Quite awesome,” said RT’s dad, Robert Sanchez Sr.

“He feels better now,” said RT of Ducky after taking care of his “patient.”

My Special Aflac Duck, designed by Sproutel, is a social robot that uses medical play, emotions, and lifelike movement to engage and help comfort children during their cancer care. The social robot is the result of 18 months of child-centered research conducted with children, parents and medical providers at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“My Special Aflac Duck is amazing! It is great to see the comfort it provides to the children. Dealing with cancer is very difficult especially for a child, so it is always nice to offer some comfort and joy during this difficult journey. We want to express our gratitude to Aflac for this innovative companion and their commitment to children with cancer. We appreciate the support for our children, families and program,” said Nkechi Mba, MD, Medical Director, Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

A unique feature of My Special Aflac Duck is seven “feeling cards” that help children communicate; the duck acts out a given feeling when that feeling card is tapped to its chest.

In addition, a chemotherapy port allows children to mirror their care experiences through playing, giving them a sense of control during the process.

“It has been really neat to see kids connect with the fact that the duck also can get his MediPort accessed. It is such a fun way for them to identify their emotions and how different medical experiences make them feel. As a Child Life Specialist, I am so grateful for this resource,” said Nawrocki.

The duck’s no-cost companion app allows children to “bathe” it, “feed” it, and give it “medicine” through augmented reality. The duck produces a naturalistic heartbeat and deep breathing, which caregivers can incorporate into calming routines and exercises.

“We want to deliver My Special Aflac Duck to the more than 15,000 brave and special children diagnosed with cancer each year across America. We are grateful to Driscoll Children’s Hospital for bringing us one step closer to our goal of providing a coping mechanism for children with cancer,” said Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos.