'You've got a friend in me': Tom Hanks shoots video for Cork conjoined twins

'You've got a friend in me': Tom Hanks shoots video for Cork conjoined twins
Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf with their Toy Story toys in 2014, pictured with Dr Edward Kiely of Great Ormond Street Hospital who operated on the twins. Photo: Tony O'Connell Photography.

Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks has shot a special Toy Story video for Irish twins who were born conjoined after learning that they have kept their Woody and Buzz toys with them through 52 operations.

Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf, who are from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork were born conjoined in December 2009 before being successfully separated the following year.

The pair, who are called the “Little Fighters,” have endured gruelling surgeries and still face ongoing health challenges.

Fantastic Flavours ice cream parlour owner Miceal O'Hurley, who worked in Congress and has links in the film industry, reached out to Tom via his representatives informing him of the boys’ love of Toy Story.

Miceal said he was incredibly touched when the two time Oscar winner shot a short Toy Story video for the youngsters at his home.

He said he wasn't surprised that Hanks went beyond an autographed photo or form letter.

Tom instead matched the Toy Story theme song "You've Got a Friend in Me" to his own actions and choreography.

"We got the video at 3am and my wife Oksana and I sat up in bed in tears. The thoughtfulness. The kindness. The generosity of spirit of his act was extraordinary.

I think what I love about Tom Hanks is that if he wasn't a mega star, and he was the local guy in the hardware store, he would still go out of his way to be a decent person.

"Tom wanted the boys to know that he admires them and wants to be their friend."

Miceal says Hanks put serious thought into the video.

"It's hilarious. The timing of it to the music. The choreography. He has got millions of fans. To think that he recognised two little Irish fans enough to write, direct and produce a little film just for them. They will always have this.

"Next time the boys are feeling low or stuck in a hospital bed they can flip on a video and be reminded that they are special. This is about lifting their spirits."

Tom Hanks collects typewriters and included in the gift for the boys was a hand typed letter with his signature at the end.

In the letter, the Oscar winner joked that he "looks a bit odd" these days. He asked the youngsters not to "be scared" by his appearance in the video.

Miceal says he and his wife are inspired by the resilience of the nine-year-olds and the dedication of their parents, Angie and Azzedine, who have worked extraordinarily hard to give them every opportunity in life.

The twins pictured last year.
The twins pictured last year.

The Benhaffaf boys rose to national prominence at birth as their parents fought for their survival via surgery.

However, Miceal stresses in many ways the surgery was just the start of a long journey with the duo having to travel to London on a regular basis for operations.

"It was in all the headlines (when they were born). It was only natural it slipped from our public awareness.

"What people don't realise is the boys' dad, who was an extraordinarily talented chef, had to leave his job to care for the family.

"He and the boys' Mom, Angie, are full-time carers and they also have two other children. They go to London for surgeries. Some things are covered but the out of pocket expenses aren't.

On any given trip it costs them €2,000 to €3,000 out of pocket that they don't get reimbursed. This family face adversity that people don't even realise.

Miceal added that the boys play basketball, climb indoor walls at play centres and are spirited warm kids who light up a room.

"I am proud to know the boys and to call them my friends. They are an extraordinary family. I think we should do something more for these boys."

Hassan and Hussein underwent a 14-hour separation operation at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London 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.

The twins' first day of school.
The twins' first day of school.

In 2015 they started their first day together at the Educate Together National School in Midleton.

Information in the boy's extensive medical files include details of their cuddly toys, Woody and Buzz, which they bring to every operation.

Mum Angie told The Echo newspaper in Cork last year that the cuddly Woody Toy is getting old now but still attends every surgery.

She joked that "Woody looks how Mummy feels."

It is understood that the team at Great Ormond Street Hospital have gone above and beyond the call of duty for the Benhaffaf boys such is their fondness for them.

Conjoined twins are identical twins whose bodies are joined in utero. A rare phenomenon, the occurrence is estimated to range from 1 in 50,000 births to 1 in 200,000 births.

More information about the boys can be obtained at https://www.facebook.com/benhaffaffoundation/

Donations can be made to the ongoing care of the boys at https://www.gofundme.com/the-benhaffaf-boys

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