Cork’s most famous twins are celebrating ten years since their separation today.
Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf made international headlines when they were born conjoined from chest to pelvis in December 2009.
The two boys survived a 16-hour operation to separate them on April 7 2010. A decade on, there were hopes of big celebrations, but their mum Angie told The Echo those plans had to be put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We planned that we would gather everyone who was part of their journey together, from the doctors and obstetricians, to the air corps. We always hoped and imagined for their ten-year anniversary that we would have a very special gathering, so that those amazing people could see the boys ten years on, and see how great they were doing. Sadly that’s not going to happen,” Angie said.
However, despite their original plans being scuppered the boys will get to see the documentary made about their separation for the first time.
“It’s not going to be the day we had planned for them, but we’ll still make it as special as we can for them. The biggest gift of all is that we’re all together.
“For the very first time we’re going to watch the documentary of their separation with them.
“I always said I’d wait until they were ten so they would have a better understanding of how huge it was,” Angie said.
Hassan and Hussein also wanted to make sure the people who helped them in any way know how grateful they are: “All the boys want to say is a big thanks to everyone who has been part of their journey over the last ten years,” Angie said.
Angie has recently contacted the surgeon involved in her sons’ operation, Dr Edward Kiely, and those working in Great Ormond Street where the separation was carried out, to check in to see how they are all doing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Benhaffaf family are taking the public health restrictions seriously, given that the twins fall into the vulnerable category with their health issues, and both having gone through more than 50 surgeries.
Angie said they’re getting used to the isolation.
“The first day when school had finished, they found it hard because they could see friends outside playing on the road and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t go out. I had to sit them down and explain to them why, and why we couldn’t take any risks,” Angie said, which she said the boys understood.
“Every few days we’ll go for a walk in their wheelchairs when it’s quieter in the evening, just to get some fresh air, but outside of that it’s home and it’s lockdown,” she added.
Angie likened the uncertainty in the air surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic to the uncertainty handing her conjoined twins over to be separated ten years ago.
“We all have to remain to have hope at this time. It’s all that can get you through the hard stuff really.
“Such simple things, we’ll never take for granted again,” she said.
Today’s celebrations, while they won’t be as grand as was intended, will instead be just about their family, but the Benhaffaf’s do intend on thanking those involved with their sons’ journey in the future.
“We have been in touch with our friends at the air corps, and once this is all finished we're going to go up and visit them all so that they can see the boys ten years on,” Angie said.
“They had the journey of bringing them over (to London for the operation), and not know if they’d ever return. It’s important for those people who don’t always get to see children come back to see where they’re at now,” she added.
Paying tribute to those who helped her family and who are helping many families through Covid-19, Angie said: “In this time, we should be even more grateful for all of our frontliners and medical staff. It puts everything into perspective.
“We have always known the superheroes they all are but it’s when something like this happens it just reminds us even moreso.”