What an inspiring story the Benhaffaf family from Cork has to share. For those who haven’t already heard, the Benhaffaf’s youngest children – twin boys Hassan and Hussein - were born conjoined at the chest last December.
Yesterday the baby boys underwent a 14 hour operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in an intricate surgery to separate them led by Cork born paediatric surgeon Edward Kiely. Thankfully the boys are stable after the surgery and doing well though their doctors have warned that getting through the next few days is key to their survival. The incidence of conjoined twins surviving separation operations and dying thereafter is high and so the Benhaffaf babies family are praying that their boys will endure.
The story of Hassan and Hussein’s lives in the womb is as sensational as their young lives have been so far. Their mother Angie Benhaffaf said her family’s world was turned upside down when they realised the babies were conjoined. She explained how the boys interacted in the womb “they were holding hands and were helping each other – they always mind one another” She explains that despite the struggles and doubts of her pregnancy, the children have been an extraordinary gift to their family.
“The first day I held the two boys in my arms I knew I was chosen. They were a gift. We do feel blessed by them. It was never expected that they would live or do as well as they have been doing so hence their name, "the little fighters".
Angie Benhaffaf wrote a poem to her babies as a tribute to them no matter what the outcome of the operation. In it she imparts in an ordinary way the struggles and joy of their lives from the moment she first knew the babies would be conjoined at just four weeks gestation
“I loved you both from the very start, when doctors thought you shared one heart. I cried so much during that time, we did not think, that all would be fine. Your two big sisters got me through the worst; I really felt that I had been cursed. For eight months I was in such a lonely place, as the birth was something I thought I couldn't face. But then came that beautiful winter's morn, on the 2nd of December my "little fighters" were born!”
She continues “You both have given me courage and strength, What a wonderful "gift", we have been sent!.... Boys - you have filled us all with love and hope, Without you both, we would never cope….No matter how this will all end, I am forever grateful for the time we did spend".
Speaking to the media yesterday after the operation Mrs. Benhaffaf said “We are so proud of the courage and strength Hassan and Hussein have shown and they have both made the world a much better place with them in it”
The attitude of the Benhaffafs is inspiring. They are treating their time with the baby boys as a gift to be celebrated. As we reflect on the lives so far of the Benhaffaf twins we should also consider the many children who are not born because pre-natal diagnoses result in their parents choosing abortion.
The Benhaffaf’s story proves that every life no matter how short or threatened is a gift to celebrate and a life worth living. The Benhaffaf babies have certainly brought inspiration to their family and to the country. Let’s hope ‘the little fighters’ persevere.