Over the last 18 months, we’ve been lucky enough to get to know two very special little girls, conjoined twins, Marieme and Ndeye. Born in Dakar, Senegal, the girls have endured an incredibly difficult journey on their way to Cardiff with their father, Ibrahima.
The twin’s story has been told elsewhere, most noticeably in a heart-breaking documentary from BBC2 that delves into the impossible decision surrounding their separation that Ibrahima had to face. It is hopeful and heart-warming, desperate and devastating.
But in spite of the hardship the family has endured in searching for the support they so desperately need, we have two girls who have such a delightful presence and love of life.
The girls each have their own heart and lungs, and share a liver, bladder and digestive system. But for all the girls share, they are so different. Marieme is the quiet one, head strong and cheeky. Ndeye is playful and mischievous.
The family have been in Cardiff for 18 months now and are enjoying a period of stability in their life which has given them an opportunity to just be children, to play and develop. They are constantly surprising their medical staff with their progress to the delight of everyone who knows them.
The big question surrounding the twins has always been the ethics surrounding their separation. It was thought that Marieme was very much dependent on Ndeye, as her heart is the weaker of the two, putting more strain on Ndeye’s heart. This led to the dilemma of whether the girls could be and should be separated. But recent CT scans show they are both dependent on each other for staying alive, so separation is no longer an option, allowing the girls to grow and develop naturally.
“My girls continue to grow and bring me so much joy,” Ibrahima said. “Their speaking is coming along, and they can move with greater independence.
“When Ndeye sees me doing the dishes, she says ‘poor daddy’, which makes me laugh so hard. And when Ndeye is crying, Marieme will turn to her and say, ‘Shhh, noisy!”
Marieme and Ndeye attend playgroups and their mobility is improving. They can’t walk yet, but it isn’t out of the question either. They love their visits to Tŷ Hafan and have spent many hours in the playroom testing their arts and crafts skills. They are interested in everything and investigate whatever they can get their hands on, the more sparkly the better, before invariably lobbing whatever it is across the room to hoots of laughter. They might also be one of the main reasons that Baby Shark became one of the most played song of 2018. They certainly love to sing it.
Watching them getting stuck into an activity like icing biscuits, only for one to get bored before the other and push them both away from the table, again to the sound of laughter adds an extra element of entertainment.
Perhaps one of their most endearing traits though is the way that their faces never fail to light up when their dad walks into the room.
But for the man who has sacrificed the life he knew, there isn’t a greater gift.
“I have found out through their lives what life is. My girls are warriors and the world needs to know this.
“For me, I need to know, in my heart, that I have done everything for them, provided them with safety and the best possible healthcare. When I look in the mirror, I need to be at peace. Beyond this, I have no control.
“The future is uncertain but my girls battle every day for life and I feel very blessed.”
Ibrahima has also set up a foundation to help other children in need. He said: “With all we have been through, I can’t close my eyes to other children with disabilities and complex needs. So I am setting up a foundation for the girls, in conjunction with Tŷ Hafan children’s hospice, called Conjoined Destiny.
“If the situation gets worse and they don’t make it, I want to put something in place for them to leave a footprint to the world despite our humble and difficult beginning.