Robot duck to help children with sickle cell

An experimental therapy that could be lifesaving for patients running out of treatment options.
An experimental therapy that could be lifesaving for patients running out of treatment options.(WGEM)
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 8:19 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A new tech toy is helping children navigate their sickle cell journey by calming, entertaining, and soothing them, helping manage their fear of uncontrolled pain. Sickle cell disease is a painful and often deadly blood disorder that affects millions of people around the world. In the United States, 1 out of every 365 African-Americans are born with it. But a new high-tech solution to help comfort those kids could be a game-changer.

“There wasn’t a lot being done in the more of the social-emotional space, and so we feel like this duck is the real difference-maker,” said Buffy Swinehart, Aflac’s Senior Manager.

Aflac is best known as the insurance company with the big fluffy duck, but it also sponsors America’s largest sickle cell program, and now it’s developed a tech toy specifically designed to help kids live with the symptoms.

It’s called My Special Aflac Duck - an interactive “friend” that reminds children with sickle cell to hydrate constantly. It also has an IV port for medications, a customizable blanket, and a set of “emotion buttons” that help kids tell doctors and nurses how they’re feeling.

So far, reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with some families saying the focus on sickle cell treatment is long overdue.

“One of the mothers of one of the families we interviewed...she definitely used those words, that she felt seen and she felt appreciative,” Swineheart said.

There’s also a virtual component that offers activities designed to distract kids during treatment, or in a pain crisis. It’s now being distributed free, and if all goes well we’ll see more toys like this one in the near future.

“Our future plans are to continue to expand our reach in the area of creating awareness, education, and funding for sickle cell.”

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 To find out more about Aflac’s commitment to helping children with sickle cell disease, go to