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Aoife Finneran: Little fighters come home

THE red carpet was rolled out this afternoon for the 'Little Fighters' -- twins Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf -- as they returned home for the first time since their separation operation.

In a fitting homecoming for the five-month-old boys, they were flown to Cork Airport by the Irish Air Corps, whose pilots were also tasked with flying them over to London at the end of March.

And the plucky duo were well prepared for their trip home, having been sent gifts of tiny Cork GAA jerseys.

The twins were accompanied by their parents Angie and Azzedine and sisters Malika (6) and Iman (2). Several close family members were at the airport for an emotional reunion.

While the twins have recovered "exceptionally quickly" from their marathon separation surgery, they still require medical attention and are expected to be cared for at Cork University Hospital in the coming weeks.

The Benhaffaf family had prepared to spend at least four months in London, as surgeons said the boys would need a long period of recovery in the Intensive Care Unit.

Hassan and Hussein were joined from the chest to the pelvis and shared a liver, gut and bladder. However, following a 14-hour operation led by Cork-born Dr Edward Kiely, they recovered far faster than expected.

Mr Kiely, one of the world's leading surgeons in the field of conjoined twins, has expressed his delight that his two most famous patients are finally returning home.

He described the twins as "two very independent little boys with every chance of a great future".

He also praised their parents for their "great courage" throughout the last few months.

"It's an awful business when you might lose two children all at once, so it's an extraordinarily difficult time for them," he said.

Hassan and Hussein were not expected to survive after pre-natal scans showed that they were joined at the chest. Yet, they both thrived following their birth at University College Hospital in London. Their mother Angie dubbed them "Little Fighters", a moniker which proved suitable as they recovered speedily from their mammoth operation.

Both boys have a limb that did not form fully in the womb and will be fitted with prosthetics when they are older. However, they are not expected to require any further surgery.

A massive fundraising effort continues to help meet the huge costs of surgery and accommodation for the family in London. Azzedine, originally from Algeria, had to give up his job in recent months to be with his family.