'Six years ago, they nearly died - now they're walking hand-in-hand to school' - Separated conjoined twins start first day of school
Nearly six years ago they were born joined at the chest, and this morning, Ireland's best known twins walked separately -- but hand in hand -- into their first day of "big school".
Five and half year olds, Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf from Cork, breezed past their parents, as they headed into Educate Together National School, Middleton, to meet their friends and teachers.
It was even more special for the brave boys who officially strolled for the first time without their walking aides, which have helped keep them upright for most of their lives.
"I have to watch them because they're taking off, I never thought I'd say that, that I have to keep up with them," said their proud mother, Angie.
It was a day of milestones for all 76 new junior infants attending the school, but for the twins, who each have a prosthetic leg, it was a day of overcoming insurmountable odds.
"It was the ultimate dream, once they were separated, that maybe, one day, we'd be lucky enough to see them walk into school together," Ms Benhaffaf said.
"So, watching them walk into school this morning, I'm quiet overwhelmed."
"My dreams have come true," she added.
The boys' big sisters, Malika, 9, and Iman, 7, also attend the school.
Hassan and Hussein were born joined at the chest, in London University Hospital in December 2009.
Since then they have battled through dozens of operations, not withstanding their initial separation surgery, as well as long days of physiotherapy.
But, today was worth all the struggle.
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"They've been counting down the days for the last two weeks," their mother added.
"They got their lunch bags back in May. They've been super excited leading up to it."
"I suppose I have mixed emotions. It's a very happy time, it's positive, but I'm so nervous letting them go into the big world," she said.
Azzedine Benhaffaf, who became emotional on his sons' big day, added: "It's the most beautiful day today, and I'm very proud of these two boys."
"Six years ago they nearly died. After their separation we didn't know what would happen but we kept praying and we kept it together, and you can see they are walking hand in hand going to school."
"There is nothing more to ask for," he added.
The twins who will need further surgeries, Hassan more so, to treat a curve on his spine, but both are thriving.
They happily posed for the cameras on their important day, and even melted the hearts of some of the most seasoned reporters who threw a few questions at the inspirational pair.
The boys said they were looking forward to "colouring" and "counting to a hundred" and meeting their teacher "Mui teoir James".
Ms Benhaffaf dedicated her sons' first day at school to everyone who had helped them since their birth.
"We have dedicated each little step that they have taken into school today, to the wonderful teams at (Cork University Hospital), (Cork University Maternity Hospital), Crumlin (Children's) Hospital, Great Ormond Street, Enable Ireland, Irish Wheelchair Association, ambulance drivers, who have seen us a lot over the years and will no doubt see is many more times, but today is in their honour."
"Thank you for getting us to school, and we look forward to the next chapter in their life," she said.