Giving Voice And Hope To Children With Sickle Cell Disease, One Duck At A Time

By Brad Knox

Over the years, corporations have become more creative in developing characters synonymous with their brands. From the lonely nameless Maytag Repairman to Progressive’s quirky sales rep Flo and Jake from State Farm, beloved mascots give many products iconic voices that withstand the test of time.

The Aflac Duck waddled into the business world Jan. 1, 2000, and by the time I joined the Georgia-based supplemental insurance family in 2006, the little duck with big personality was already a brand powerhouse. That said, advertising and branding were only part of the mission.

In 2018, Aflac introduced My Special Aflac Duck® as a companion for children with cancer. It quickly became clear that this robotic innovation was more than another brand mascot. Its purpose was born straight from the hearts of Aflac CEO Dan Amos and Kathelen Amos.

Since its debut, My Special Aflac Duck has made its way into the arms of more than 12,000 children with cancer, providing comfort and joy as they undergo treatment. Early on, parents and medical professionals saw its great benefits as more than just a cuddly companion. My Special Aflac Duck helps even the smallest patients (3 and older) communicate their feelings, better understand their care, and enjoy moments of empowerment and even fun.

Aflac’s philanthropic focus on pediatric cancer has been strengthened by its 26-year, $155 million partnership with the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – No. 6 on U.S. News and World Report’s Top 10 Best Pediatric Cancer Programs list. But the Center is also consistently ranked for another reason. Last year alone, they had over 2,000 visits from patients with sickle cell disease (SCD), making it No. 1 in the nation for total SCD discharges. These astounding figures are what led Aflac to exponentially expand its corporate commitment to children with blood disorders like SCD. Through education, awareness and action, we are amplifying our efforts to help address gaps in care for the youngest suffering from this inherited, painful disease that disproportionately affects African American communities.

As a parent myself, my heart aches for those that learn their child has this devastating disease. It brings me great joy and pride to work for a company that invests in the well-being and futures of these children and their families.

As part of our ongoing commitment, My Special Aflac Duck has been enhanced with features specifically designed to help children with SCD cope with their unique care and treatment routines. Did you know fluctuations in temperature and dehydration can often lead to painful SCD crises? Kids with SCD can mimic their need to stay warm by bundling up their Duck in its very own customizable blanket, and they can learn to stave off dehydration by providing virtual water breaks through the duck’s improved, free companion app.

The new My Special Aflac Duck with features for children with SCD will be available in early 2022 – and just as it is for children with cancer, there will be no charge. It’s available to health professionals and organizations that care for children with blood disorders to give to their children with SCD, free of charge.