THE family of a North Belfast man say they are "over the moon" after he finally returned home – after almost ten months in hospital after suffering life-changing injuries.

Boxer Stephen McMullan (25) from Newington ABC was fighting in the heavyweight decider in the Ulster Elite Amateur Finals at Girdwood Community Hub on December 9, 2021. He fell ill the following day and was rushed to hospital to the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

He spent five weeks in Intensive Care before being moved to the stroke ward. He was then transferred to Musgrave brain injury unit for intense rehabilitation in April. Stephen suffers from locked-in syndrome and is confined to a wheelchair.

On Thursday afternoon, friends and family welcomed Stephen back to his Newington home, where he will continue the next stage of his journey.

As staff from NI Ambulance Service wheeled Stephen into Lakeview Street, he was welcomed with loud cheers and green, white and orange flares set off in scenes of both heartbreak and joy.

Speaking to the North Belfast News, Stephen's sister, Claire said her brother "deserved to come home".

"As a family, it is a mixture of nerves and excitement," she said. "We are over the moon and delighted to have him home.

"Stephen has had enough of hospitals. We are lucky to get him home, as there is no care package in place. He is too young to go into a care home but we will fight for a care package in the coming days.

"Stephen deserves to come home and be with his family and his recently engaged fiancée.

"He is excited to see his friends and family and his nieces and nephews who he hasn’t seen in a while. It has been a hard and long road, especially with Covid in the way and restrictions in hospitals which has made it even harder for him."

Claire said being at home is the next step of Stephen's journey.

"Stephen is in a wheelchair. He has locked-in syndrome so he is still learning to move and take control of his muscles.

"His right side is better than his left, with his muscles there only starting to move now. It is a long road ahead.

"We get excited for every bit of progress and we cheer on everything new that he does. Coming home to his family is the next step in his journey. We will make sure he has all the support he needs."

WELCOME HOME SON: Stephen receives a kiss from mum, Sylvia

WELCOME HOME SON: Stephen receives a kiss from mum, Sylvia

Claire also wished to thank everyone for the support the family has received during a difficult last ten months.

Stephen’s cousin Mary Toman started a fundraising page earlier this year and has helped raise over £12,000. You can still donate here. Money raised will go towards Stephen's intensive rehabilitation, as well as an eyegaze computer system to enable him to communicate with others.

Any funds not used towards Stephen's recovery will be donated to ICU and the Stroke Ward in The Royal Victoria Hospital.

"I can’t describe how much all the support has meant to us as a family. Stephen knows as well of all the support.

"We are beyond grateful to everyone who said a prayer, helped fundraise or took part in a walk. It has been amazing."