Former rugby player Sam Ballard sadly spent the last years of his life suffering, all because of a silly dare. In 2010, in Sydney, Australia, Ballard ate a slug on a dare and the act changed his life forever. He contracted a disease from a parasite in the slug that left him paralyzed for the remaining years of his life. Unfortunately, in November 2018, he passed away from his illness. See what happened to this once ordinary boy’s life and the consequences that came from what was thought to be an innocent dare.
In 2010, 19-year-old rugby player Sam Ballard was tasting various types of red wine with his friend Jimmy Galvin and some of his other buddies. It wasn’t long before a slug was seen crawling across Galvin’s porch in Sydney, Australia, and a dare arose.
Challenged by the other boys, Galvin put the slug in his mouth. The rugby player then swallowed the mollusk, unaware of the consequences he would suffer. Of course, nothing happened at first, but it would only be a matter of time before he would begin experiencing the first symptoms.
The First Symptoms
It only took a few days for Ballard to start feeling the effects from the dare a few nights earlier. It first started with a pain in his leg and he eventually decided to seek out medical attention.
However, he didn’t originally think that these early symptoms had anything to do with eating the slug a few days prior. His first suspicion was that he had multiple sclerosis, a disease that has plagued his father.
His Mother Tried To Comfort Him
During the seemingly endless series of tests Ballard was being subjected to, he asked his mom if it could have anything to do with the dare. Reassuringly, she told her son that she didn’t believe anyone could get sick from eating a slug. But after the tests, it was discovered that his symptoms were in fact because of the slug.
In an interview with the Sunny Project newspapers Ballard’s mother Katie said that “He was scared […] As a mother all you want to do is reassure him. As far as I’m concerned he didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a silly thing.”
To their dismay, the doctors told Ballard and his family that he had contracted eosinophilic meningitis or cerebral angiostrongyliasis, a disease caused by the worm Angiostrongylus cantonensis. Slugs and snails are often hosts to this parasite, usually contracting it after consuming rodent feces, especially from rats.
Once inside a human organism, the larvae enter the bloodstream of the digestive tract, migrates to the central nervous system, and then lodge in the meninges.
It Was A Rare Case
Most cases do not progress to the point of severe complications. Usually, the patient suffers from symptoms for a few days, with headaches, high fevers, tingling sensations, and burning of the skin being the most common.
Once the symptoms subside, most patients can then go on with their lives. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Ballard. Because of eosinophilic meningitis, he was in a coma for 420 days. When he finally woke up, to his horror, he discovered that his whole body was paralyzed.
It Was Time To Go Home
Three whole years after falling ill from the dare, Ballard was finally released from the hospital. Yet, he had to leave the hospital in a wheelchair as his whole body was paralyzed. His day-to-day life changed was about to change drastically, and for the next eight years, no day was easy for him.
Once an active boy and lover of rugby, the former athlete was fed through a tube, suffered from epileptic seizures, and experienced difficulty controlling his body temperature.
His Story Caught The Eye Of The Public
The unbelievable story of Sam Ballard quickly gained a lot of attention throughout Australia. Several news stations and other programs interviewed Ballard’s mother, Katie, who took primary care of her son on a daily basis.
Reporter Lisa Wilkinson of the Sunday Project wrote a piece about how Ballard’s mother took care of her son. She went into detail about lengths that she goes to in order to make her son’s life as comfortable as possible.
Katie Did Everything She Could
Lisa Wilkinson wrote about everything that Katie did for her son and how she did it with no complaints. She would feed him, wheel him around, drive him, take him to doctors appointments — anything under the sun that her son needed, she was there for him.
She was incredibly optimistic, always pointing out the lighter moments to make her son smile again and feel normal again. She even took care of his friends who came over and introduced them to his new and limited world.
Life Before The Accident
According to his mother, the former athlete was “noisy and invincible” before the accident. In 2011, she shared a hopeful message on Facebook, proclaiming that she had faith that he would one day walk again.
She stated that “Sam is doing very well. He’s still the same old Sam, laughing a lot. He will walk and speak again, thank God, but we do not know when. His mother’s words were comforting to all those who cared about Sam.
Everything Had Changed
In her Facebook post, Katie did admit that the accident changed almost every aspect of their family life. She stated that “It’s devastating. It changed his life forever, my life forever. It’s huge. The impact is huge.”
Regardless of all the difficulties that had come from her son’s illness, she refused to let any negative feelings take over her heart. She was playing with the cards that she was dealt and would never complain about her situation. She loved her son and would do anything to help.
Forgiving His Friends
Of course, Sam’s friends felt awful about provoking him to eat the slug. Yet, he forgave them because they weren’t exactly to blame for his condition. His mother didn’t hold any resentment either, and was always more than welcoming to the boys when they came to visit Sam.
According to Lisa Wilkinson, Sam spent his remaining days surrounded by his friends and family. Everyone was by his side loving him and making him as comfortable as possible.
He Received Help From The Government
In 2016, Ballard’s mother explained his story to apply for the National Disability Insurance Program. Thankfully, the Australian government awarded Ballard and his family $492,000. But then, in 2017, the benefit was reduced to $135,000 without notice.
This was a major issue for the family since they had gone $40,000 in debt just from the help that he received from nursing services.
Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands
According to the Daily Telegraph, the National Disability Insurance Plan said that year that “they were working closely with the Ballard Family” in an attempt to increase contribution amounts. However, the family was in a hurry and needed financial support as soon as possible.
So, Katie took matters into her own hands and established a campaign on the internet with the intention to raise the necessary funds that would help with the treatment of her son.
He Passed Away
To the great sadness of everyone that knew Sam Ballard and his story, he passed away from several medical complications in November 2018. Unfortunately, he died without any response from the government that was supposed to have helped him.
Katie announced that the boy’s last words were “I love you” as he was surrounded by those who loved him. After Sam had passed, his mother was comforted knowing that she had done everything in her power to give her son the best life possible.
In an interview, Sam’s mother said countless times in the eight years of her son’s illness that she did not blame her son’s friends for his illness. Even through all of the suffering, she was able to understand that there was nobody to blame at all.
She claimed that on the night of the dare, all of the boys, her son included, were just being friends and a misfortune occurred. There was nobody to point fingers at.
The Account From A Friend
According to Ballard’s good friend Jimmy Galvin, the slug was moving across the floor when Ballard proposed the idea to eat it. Of course, his friends egged him on, encouraging Ballard to ingest it.
Galvin claims that “We were sitting around, enjoying a red wine, trying to act like adults when the slug appeared. The idea came up if Sam should eat it, and he did.” Galvin apologized to Ballard personally after that and admitted that he started crying after learning what happened to his friend.
Reaction From The Other Boys
Sam’s other friends admitted that they were in shock when they first came to visit him at the hospital. His friend Michael Sheasby recounts “When I entered, he was very, very thin, and there were cables everywhere. It was a great shock.”
Despite the condition that Ballard was in, his friends remained close by his side over the following eight years, always checking in on him and treating him as though nothing had happened. They also helped to raise money for his tuition and were there with him when he passed away.
More About The Disease
Usually, a rodent will swallow the worm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), which then harvests it in their body. They typically excrete it in which their contaminated feces are then eaten by slugs and snails who then harbor the worm.
The transmission to humans can occur through the consumption of raw or undercooked slugs. Children or those who are constantly in outdoor areas such as gardens are considered to be at-risk groups for the disease.
Avoiding The Disease
Thankfully, there are some simple steps that can be taken to avoid a cantonensis contamination. Some of these include washing your hands, not eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs, washing your fruits and vegetables, and only touching snails or slugs with rubber gloves or a plastic bag.
Although most people who contract the parasite don’t have any complications, Sam Ballard had an extremely rare case. However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen again.
Although Sam Ballard’s case was extremely rare and heartbreaking, neither his friends nor his mother thinks back on Sam with grim thoughts. They remember him for the strong and brave person that he was both before and after the accident.
He didn’t let his condition fully control his life and he made the most out of the remaining years of his life. Everyone kept hope, even until his last days, and gave Sam the best life for his situation.