New tech is help­ing kids cope with can­cer

The Calvert Recorder - - Medical Guide -

One of the tough­est as­pects of man­ag­ing can­cer in chil­dren is com­mu­ni­cat­ing with young pa­tients, say par­ents and health­care ex­perts.

“There were many times when my daugh­ter did not want to talk or com­mu­ni­cate her feel­ings,” says Joyce­lynn Sanchez of now 6-year-old Jiani, who at age 3, was di­ag­nosed with acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia. “She grew tired of the pokes and the ques­tions and would be­come with­drawn.”

For­tu­nately, many par­ents and doc­tors are find­ing that new tech­nol­ogy can help young pa­tients like Jiani bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate their feel­ings and man­age their con­di­tion. For ex­am­ple, My Spe­cial Aflac Duck, a cre­ation of Aflac, an in­sur­ance in­dus­try leader, and Sprou­tel, a re­search and devel­op­ment work­shop, is an award-winning smart com­pan­ion that nuz­zles, quacks and dances with the life­like move­ment of a real duck­ling. While en­ter­tain­ing, it’s not a toy. It’s specif­i­cally de­signed to help com­fort, teach and em­power young pa­tients as they go through their jour­ney with can­cer, re­flect­ing the be­lief that chil­dren need more than medicine to cope with the stress and lone­li­ness that of­ten come with their dis­ease.

“On av­er­age, child­hood can­cer treat­ment lasts more than 1,000 days,” says Aaron Horowitz, CEO and co-founder of Sprou­tel. “We thought there must be a way to help al­le­vi­ate some of the bur­den.”

Us­ing the new com­pan- ion tech­nol­ogy, chil­dren can com­mu­ni­cate their emo­tions by tap­ping col­or­ful emoji cards to a sen­sor on the duck’s chest. Tap an emoji with a happy ex­pres­sion and it re­sponds with de­lighted quack­ing. Choose the sad face and it low­ers its head and sighs. Chil­dren can mir­ror their care rou­tines through a com­pat­i­ble web-based app, in­clud­ing med­i­cal play and feed­ing and bathing their duck via aug­mented re­al­ity. It also dances, quacks, and nuz­zles to help dis­tract and calm them. Its ex­te­rior can even be re­moved, washed and san­i­tized.

Cre­ation of the com­fort­ing com­pan­ion is an ex­ten­sion of Aflac’s 22-year, $122 mil­lion com­mit­ment

to child­hood can­cer causes. Their goal is to pro­vide this feath­ered friend free of charge to all newly di­ag­nosed chil­dren, nearly 16,000 each year ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute. Dis­tri­bu­tion, tar­geted to be­gin this com­ing win­ter, will be through hos­pi­tals, and the ro­botic duck will not be for gen­eral con­sumer sale.

Jiani’s treat­ment, which lasted three years and in­cluded var­i­ous chemo­ther­a­pies, as well as count­less spinal taps and an­tibi­otics, was com­pleted in De­cem­ber 2017. “There were some tough times, but through it all, she was a cham­pion,” says Sanchez. “Know­ing tough times for other chil­dren with can­cer may be made a lit­tle eas­ier with the help of tech­nol­ogy makes me very happy.”

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