Imaginary friends give child cancer patients pep talk with AR app

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The Imaginary Friend Society is truly transforming how kids are experiencing hospital treatment.

RPA has launched an AR app that lets young cancer patients get a pep talk from their imaginary friends throughout treatment.

The independent agency worked with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF) to create the Imaginary Friend Society last year in a bid to tackle the fear and confusion these children face. It’s estimated that more than 300,000 kids around the world are told they have disease each year, and many of them have limited resources to help them understand what it means.

A recent PBTF survey revealed that across the board, anxiety is the biggest issue for children diagnosed with brain tumors or other cancers.

"It’s incredible that we can use AR to give kids a pep talk before a procedure or when they’re struggling," said Robin Boettcher, president and CEO of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. "Each day, 13 children and teens are told they have a primary brain or central nervous system tumor. The PBTF is committed to helping them thrive. One way to do this is by giving kids confidence and courage when they need it most."

The partnership published a series of 22 short films that translate medical-talk into kid-talk. They worked with 22 animation studios -- all of which produced educational cartoons pro bono -- to cover complicated aspects of pediatric cancer from blood transfusions to emotionally charged topics like maintaining friendships from the hospital and returning to school after treatment.

Some of the film characters were even inspired by the kids themselves. Drawings have been given life on the screen, imaginary friend dolls have been created for children to hold during MRI scans and coloring books now sit in hospital wards.

The AR experience, available to download at the Apple app store, is the latest offering in a program of tools which have proven incredibly popular. Many children’s hospitals around the country and influential foundations have already adopted the first set of films and are exposing kids to them early in their treatment. And the videos have been translated into a dozen different languages so far.

"We want to help as much as we can," said Jason Sperling, SVP chief creative development. "The videos were just the first step. Now we’re leveraging the characters in a way that is even more vital to kids, at a time when they need them most. This truly makes the Imaginary Friend Society an ally in the fight against cancer."

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