'They are fantastic at their sports': Formerly conjoined twins hoping to become Paralympians

Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf in Toy Story outfits

Formerly conjoined twins from Cork who hit the headlines over the weekend when Hollywood actor, Tom Hanks, sent them a personalised Toy Story video are hoping to become Paralympians.

Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf (9) were successfully separated in 2010 at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The resilient brothers have endured 53 surgeries in their short lives.

Their mother Angie Benhaffaf, who is from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork says that the fun loving duo are very energetic and are involved in all sorts of sports. They also climb walls at indoor play centres.

"Every opportunity they have they amaze me. They are fantastic at their sports.

"They want to be Paralympians. They are mad training at their athletics. They do wheelchair basketball. They do swimming with their scoliosis group. They do this on one leg!"

In an interview with the Opinion Line, on Cork's 96FM, Angie said the boys were uncharacteristically dumbstruck when they saw video the two time Oscar winner had made for them.

"I watched it first because the twins were still asleep. I completely teared up. Once the boys woke up and were sitting to have breakfast I put it on.

"It's very rarely that Hassan and Hussein are dumbfounded. They were speechless at first. Then in the middle of it they started giggling. Hassan kept saying "Is that the real Woody? It was pretty amazing."

Hussein said that Hanks had gone to "Infinity and Beyond for them."

On one occasion Hussein was pretty scared going for surgery without Hassan. Hassan gave him a loan of his Buzz toy to get him through it.

The pair love dressing up as Buzz and Woody. However, as they get older they are finding it increasingly difficult to source costumes big enough for them.

Angie said when the boys were toddlers they picked up soft Woody and Buzz dolls at the Disney story.

Just as a comfort toy and something they could hold on to before theatre and for the weeks of recovery after. I never imagined that nine years on they would still be holding the same toys at every surgery.

"Tom Hanks found out that the boys brought Woody and Buzz toys to each of their 53 surgeries and he must have been quite moved by that. So the result was that he reached out.

"Many would say that he could have just done a little letter or note.

"But the trouble he went to was phenomenal and we were very moved by that. The thought he put in to it. He is sending the boys the signed dolls as well."

Angie jokes that the toys are as battered as she feels. However, as raggy as the dolls get the boys won't be separated from them. The hope is that the boys will one day travel to Toy Story land at Disneyland, Orlando.

Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf brought their Toy Story dolls each of their 53 surgeries.
Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf brought their Toy Story dolls each of their 53 surgeries.

Hassan and Hussein have been back to Great Ormond Street Hospital twice since December. Hussein was a little ill over the weekend but he is on the mend.

Mrs Benhaffaf says that people often think that once the boys were separated that was the end of their journey.

"But it is only if you are part of their lives that you know what they go through on a day to day basis. But they are two happy boys. Always smiling. Up to mischief. They are nicknamed the "Little Happiness Ambassadors."

The boys are set to receive their personalised Woody Toys and letter from Tom Hanks later this week.

Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf brought their Toy Story dolls each of their 53 surgeries.
Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf brought their Toy Story dolls each of their 53 surgeries.

The message was organised by Miceal O'Hurley of Fantastic Flavours ice cream parlour in Youghal, Co Cork. He has links to the US film industry and reached out to a representative of Hanks.

Hassan and Hussein underwent a 14-hour separation operation in April 2010 under Irish-born surgeon, Dr Edward Kiely.

The twins’ hearts were not joined, but nearly everything else was, including the liver, gut and bladder all of which had to be separated. The boys now each have a prosthetic leg.

Donations can be made to the ongoing and extensive care of the boys here.

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