Dad of locked-in syndrome Down man tells of emotional Pope Francis blessing
The father of a Co Down man suffering from locked-in syndrome said his son just happened to be in the right place at the right time when he received a special blessing from Pope Francis.
Declan McMullan has the debilitating condition after suffering a heart attack at home in 2012 aged just 19.
He was declared dead for 30 minutes and his family were told he had no chance of survival.
The McMullan family, who are from the Saintfield area, travelled to Dublin on Saturday for the World Meeting of Families, and Declan received the blessing from Pope Francis at Croke Park.
His father John said that it was a very special moment for the entire family.
"We were there all day, it was fantastic. Very, very good," Mr McMullan said. "Declan was invited to attend the circle around the Pope, he received a special invite. His illness can face challenges and we just thought we'd love to meet the Pope."
He explained how Declan's blessing from the Pope came about by chance. "He gave him a nice blessing that was very lucky," Mr McMullan said.
"It just happened to be where we were sitting, it was the perfect position. We were sitting in the right place and some kind security guards highlighted him to the bishops."
Mr McMullan said it was a very emotional experience for Declan and the family. "Declan is blind, so he knew there was somebody there but he couldn't see them really," he said.
"He's just so ill and it was just amazing. It was very emotional."
His condition has left Declan without speech but he can still communicate with his family through his eyes.
Now aged 25, he had been enjoying a normal night out with friends before returning home and suffering the heart attack that almost claimed his life.
His hearing hasn't been impaired and he has full understanding of what is being said to him, but he can't speak, move or see, and he uses a wheelchair.
He's fed through a peg in his stomach and he's catheterised, but while he is tetraplegic, he still has feeling across his body, from head to toe.
Declan first came to public attention in 2015 when a video of his brother Mark singing to him the song Bring Him Home from the musical Les Miserables went viral.