Welcome home, boys
Tears of joy as family and friends turn out for little fighters
THE family of conjoined Irish twins Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf last night hailed their emotional homecoming as just like winning the Lotto.
The boys' aunt Shirley O'Leary wept tears of joy as the twins, their parents, Angie and Azzedine, and their older sisters, Malika (4) and Iman (2), arrived back in Ireland six weeks after their marathon separation surgery in London.
The family arrived at Cork Airport yesterday on a special Air Corps flight -- and were greeted on the runway by Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.
The boys underwent a 14-hour separation surgery at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London on April 7 under Irish-born surgeon, Dr Edward Kiely.
Each carrying a twin, Angie and Azzedine stepped off the CASA marine surveillance aeroplane at 2.20pm following the short flight from Stansted Airport to cheers from emotional relatives and supporters gathered outside the runway perimeter fence.
"Up Cork -- up the Rebels," Angie cheered as she spotted the assembled friends and media.
The family enthusiastically waved to supporters and posed briefly for a photograph with the Air Corps crew, Mr Martin and paramedics before transferring to a Cork hospital.
Mr Martin said he was delighted and relieved.
"It is extraordinary -- it is just fantastic. I can recall well the morning they left here," he said. "I was on the tarmac as well and I suppose we were all wondering, if we are honest, about the challenges ahead. It is just fantastic to see them arrive back healthy and in good form."
Taoiseach Brian Cowen also welcomed the twins back. Speaking in Ballina, Co Mayo, yesterday, he said: "It's a very heart-warming story. They have been great battlers since they were born."
Mr Cowen also praised the Air Corps. "To have the Air Corps provide the facility to bring them home is an indication how all of us in the community are delighted this has worked out. And to have an Irish-born surgeon involved in looking after the children was a wonderful added part of the story."
Friends and family in their east-Cork home village of Carrigtwohill tied yellow ribbons around trees on the main street to mark the twins' safe arrival and are promising the biggest party in local history to mark the day.
Angie's daughter, Malika, was so excited she ran around the plane as they waited to load the twins into the ambulance, shouting to the crowd of well-wishers: "Three cheers for the little fighters."
The twins and their parents were whisked off to Cork University Hospital (CUH) by Health Service Executive ambulance with a garda escort.
Ms O'Leary, meanwhile, said the entire family had prayed for the day the boys would return home safe and well.
"It is unbelievable -- it is like winning the Lotto. That is what it feels like to us; nothing will ever compare to these two boys coming home safe and well," she said.
"They (Angie and Azzedine) are absolutely walking on air -- they are so happy, so excited. This is where they belong, this is where we want them."
The twins are expected to remain at CUH for a few days for routine tests before they are allowed to return home.
Students at Malika's school, Scoil Chlochair Mhuire, spent the past week making posters, banners and decorations to welcome the family home.