Angie Benhaffhaf was leaning out the front door chatting to one of her neighbours when she saw one and then both of her sons push themselves over the threshold and on to the tarmac outside their East Cork home.
“They just escaped. They were gone. You should have seen their faces. They loved feeling the same as everyone else; they loved the freedom,” says Angie, a mother of four.
It was another in a long line of moments Angie never expected to see. Her sons were born conjoined two-and-a-half years ago and since then, the country has looked on in amazement as the boys, dubbed the “Little Fighters” by their mother, overcame one challenge after another.
At just six months, they endured a 16-hour separation operation at London’s Great Ormond St hospital. Two years on, the boys, once joined from the chest to the pelvis, sharing a liver, gut, and bladder, have prosthetic limbs and are walking with the aid of a type of walking frame.
Prior to this, they spent their lives either in a pushchair or in their parents’ arms. When the boys discovered their older sisters’ push-along cars under the stairs of their Carrigtwohill home, they were overjoyed that they could use them.
“They started off racing around the house but I’ll never forget the day they got out that front door. I never thought I’d see it.”
Physiotherapy plays a huge part in the family’s daily lives. Four times a day, the boys have to practice sitting and standing with their walking aid. They attend Enable Ireland three times a week for further physiotherapy sessions.
“They’ve never had the sensation before of having a second leg. They’re not used to the weight so it takes a lot of practice for them to adjust to it. Literally, through physiotherapy four times a day, they have to teach their brain that they now have a limb.”
Both boys suffer from curvature of the spine but Hassan’s scoliosis has been more problematic than his brother’s and five weeks ago, he had to endure another operation whereby a plate was put in his back to help straighten his spine.
According to their mum, the boys are “full of mischief, very clever and love their books”. She’s exhausted though. “It’s more than a full-time job. There’s never enough time in the day. Every day is exhausting but you have to focus on the progress.”
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