“Mummy, thanks for the perfect day,” were the words of miracle twins Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf after their 13th birthday celebrations on Friday.
Angie Benhaffaf said that seeing her formerly conjoined sons become teenagers was a very happy milestone she thought they may never reach.
“After all the odds against them, here they are at 13 excelling at all they put their minds to,” she said.
“We never imagined we’d get them to be teenagers.
“Their birthday is always a very happy day, I’m very grateful for having them for another year.”
For the special celebration, the twins wanted Mexican food in Cork followed by the cinema with their friends.
“They’ll never ask for much but the simplest things they show such gratitude for. In their eyes they had the perfect birthday. It shows you that kids are happy with the simplest of things.
“They chose to keep it low key and It couldn’t have been more special.”
The Benhaffaf twins were conjoined at birth, connected to each other from chest to pelvis, sharing some vital organs and having one leg each.
In 2009, at 34 weeks pregnant, Angie and her husband Azadeen had to travel to London for the twins’ birth. Hassan and Hussein later underwent separation surgery, which was performed when they were four months old by a team in Great Ormond Street Hospital led by Cork-born surgeon Dr Edward Kiely.
Despite their exceptionally difficult start in life, the twins have excelled in sport and plan to become Paralympians, having won six medals at a para-athletics event in the UK in July.
But it’s also been a very difficult year for the family from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork.
“It was a pretty tough year for Hassan with two major surgeries on his spine. Nine months on he’s still recovering, he’s had a tough year,” Mrs Benhaffaf said.
“You’d love to think that one day this will all end for them [multiple surgeries and medical procedures] but that will not be the case.”
The twins have appointments in Crumlin hospital on Tuesday and then fly to London for surgeries at Great Ormond Street the week after.
“It’s never easy to watch them go through this as a mum, I’d love to go through it for them, I’d love if just before Christmas this didn’t have to happen. But it’s part of their life and in their young heads they know it’s part of their life and they never give out about it.
“You feel they would be entitled to give out about it, but they don’t. They’re really sweet. They’re really good boys. But they love the banter as well and are always up for a good joke.”
Hassan will soon face his fourth surgery this year. Because of a congenital condition, he has had more health complications than his brother.
“He had a rough time but coped impeccably,” Mrs Benhaffaf said.
“Any time one of them is poorly after surgery, the best medicine of all is having their twin next to them.
“When Hassan was sick this year, Hussein was by his side in the bed. They’re each other’s best medicine. They recover quicker together.
“They hate being apart. When one is in intensive care the other cannot go in and they dip when the other’s not around.”
The twins are looking forward to another milestone next year — starting secondary school at Carrigtwohill Community College.
“They had their hearts set on Carrigtwohill Community College and they got a place there. They are thrilled,” Mrs Benhaffaf said.
“For the first time in their lives they will have the chance to walk home from school with their friends. Their prosthetics would not allow them to walk to their current school, it’s too far, but their secondary school will be near enough.
“The joy of thinking they could walk home with their friends — that is everything for them. And it’s something we all take for granted, just walking home with the pals.”
After a difficult year, Mrs Benhaffaf said they have ended it on a high — with the twins turning 13 and with their recent Spirit of Cork award.
“I cried with pride and happiness when I saw them go up to collect that award.
“So, we’re ending the year on a high. It was a lovely perk at the end of a hard year.
“This year was a really difficult year but I’m hoping next year will be better for all of us.”