Joseph Maraachli, the terminally ill baby at the centre of a legal and ethical battle that led to his care in a U.S. hospital, returned to Canada on Thursday morning.

The 15-month-old, who arrived at the Windsor, Ont., airport around 7:30 a.m. ET, has a degenerative brain disease.

Canadian doctors had refused to perform a tracheotomy to prolong his life. But in March, the group Priests for Life flew him to a hospital in St. Louis, Mo., where he received the procedure.

Joseph and his father, Moe Maraachli, arrived in a private medical jet.

"I'm so excited. I'm so happy," said Maraachli.  "I'm back home with my son. My son is back home with me."

Maraachli told CBC News that his son is doing well and breathing on his own. He also said he shouldn't have had to go to the U.S. for treatment, and his medical success is proof that the tracheotomy "was not [a] big deal."

"That's not good," he said.

In a joint statement issued by Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and Windsor Regional Hospital, Joseph's doctors said he is responding well to the tracheotomy, and has been breathing on his own, without the aid of a ventilator, for more than a week.

Doctors were expecting Joseph to spend some time in a U.S. rehabilitation facility, "but he responded so well to the tracheotomy that he was discharged directly home to Windsor, Ontario," it said in the release.

Canadian medical checkup

His parents had hoped Joseph could return immediately to his home in Windsor, but his first stop on Thursday was Windsor Regional Hospital by ambulance.

Doctors there assessed his condition and provided special instructions for nursing staff who will visit him at his home, said David Musyj, the hospital's CEO. Joseph left the hospital 2½ hours later and headed home.

"Our prayers are with them," said Musyj at a news conference at the hospital on Thursday morning.

Doctors ran some tests and checked the baby's trachea to ensure there was no infection that would prevent his release. The CEO said three pediatricians were working on Joseph's case.

Musyj said the hospital contacted the family through its legal counsel and was in "constant communication" to put plans in place for his return to Canada.

The Community Care Access Centre was also involved in arranging support for him at home, he said.

"At least initially, there is going to be some intense nursing care, but the family has been trained with respect to his care at home, and there was some previous meeting to ensure that the appropriate supplies and everything was available at home," said Musyj.

Hospital officials said the family has been told that if the child's condition changes at any time the parents can bring him back to the Windsor hospital again.

Maraachli thanked the Canadian and American medical teams who have cared for Joseph as well as all the supporters who contacted him with words of encouragement. He said he was thankful that Windsor Regional Hospital accepted his son back into its care.

A Facebook campaign to "save" Joseph attracted more than 15,000 followers worldwide.