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Partnering with Aflac to deliver comfort and healing

Buffy Swinehart, Aflac Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, and a young sickle cell patient play with My Special Aflac Duck

Together, Aflac and Be The Match® are making an incredible impact on the lives of countless patients and their families. Through an employee engagement initiative, a national donor recruitment campaign featuring Marcus Smart and now the inclusion of My Special Aflac Duck® in Be The Match pediatric Packages of Hope, Aflac is ensuring more patients find donors and feel supported every step of their journey to transplant.

Be The Match spoke to Buffy Swinehart, Aflac Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, to learn more about the social robotic duck and how it helps young patients understand their treatment and feel comforted along the way.

What inspired Aflac to partner with Be The Match?

There are so many connections between the incredible work Be The Match does and Aflac’s 27-year commitment to children with cancer and sickle cell disease. Aflac partnered with Be The Match years ago to support and positively impact those patients. Recently, we learned about Be The Match’s pediatric Packages of Hope, which allowed us to provide My Special Aflac Duck free of charge to even more children across the nation with cancer and sickle cell. Based on the partnership’s success years ago, we knew reuniting with Be The Match would help make a difference.

Tell us more about My Special Aflac Duck

Well, many people think it’s just a cuddly duck. But it is so much more than that. It’s an interactive robot designed to support patients through their cancer or sickle cell journey and distract them from the challenges of treatment. It serves as a free-of-charge resource for health care professionals and other members of a patient’s support team and can aid in their communication by helping kids express their feelings and needs.

What does the duck do?

There are so many features:

  • A built-in chemotherapy port and miniature medical play accessories help kids understand their treatment.
  • An art doodle blanket and IV adapter for children with sickle cell.
  • An interactive mobile app allows children to travel through the duck’s home and discover hidden animations, as well as virtually bathe and feed it. 
  • Preset or customizable soundscapes provide soothing visuals and sounds.
  • Smart sensors enable touch and awareness of light and sounds, including a calming heartbeat and breathing vibrations.
  • Seven feeling cards help children communicate, as the duck acts out the selected emotion when a card is tapped to its chest.

How did My Special Aflac Duck originate?

My Special Aflac Duck was initially developed for pediatric cancer patients after more than 18 months of research with children, families and health care providers. Almost five years ago, My Special Aflac Duck made its debut at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, and it was quite the unveiling, as it won a Best of CES Award! A few months later it won the top award at South by Southwest and was named one of Time magazine’s 50 Best Inventions. When the program expanded to sickle cell in 2022, we conducted additional extensive research to ensure the key needs of children with sickle cell were met, which of course are different from those of kids facing cancer. 

Who is eligible for My Special Aflac Duck?

The ducks are currently available free of charge to pediatric cancer and sickle cell patients above the age of three.

How many ducks have been given away so far?

More than 21,000 ducks have been donated with an estimated value of more than $3.48 million.

What impact do you hope My Special Aflac Duck will have on patients?

Since it launched, we’ve received so many heartwarming notes from parents and caregivers whose children have appreciated their ducks. By including this resource in Be The Match’s pediatric Packages of Hope, we’ll help more kids recognize that they’re not alone in this experience and provide coping mechanisms to help comfort them during their journey. Our hope is that My Special Aflac Duck creates positive associations for these young children with their treatment to inspire them to keep following their doctor’s plan.

What else would you like people to know about Aflac and Be The Match working together?

Through this partnership, we are growing the Be The Match Registry®️, raising life-saving funds, amplifying awareness and helping comfort pediatric cancer and sickle cell patients. Aflac and Be The Match are two organizations dedicated to addressing health care disparities, particularly in cancer and blood disorder treatments. Together, we’re closing the gap for patients in need.

For more information about Aflac and Be The Match, including a chance to join the registry and support our mission, check out our partnership page.

If you have a pediatric cancer or sickle cell patient in your family, you can request a duck free of charge by contacting the Patient Support Center at 1-888-999-6743 and a patient navigator will help.