For many people, the worst they could possibly say about garden slugs is that they’re slimy and gross. But for Sam Ballard, a former rugby player from Australia, a fun day of drinking with friends turned into a life-altering event, as the young man reportedly ended up quadriplegic due to an infection he acquired after he ate a slug on a dare.
As detailed in a report from News.com.au, Ballard was only 19-years-old in 2010, when he and his friends spotted a garden slug while drinking at a party. Urged on by his friends, Sam accepted the dare and swallowed the slug, which made him feel ill afterwards. He was then taken to Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, where doctors advised him and his family that he was carrying the rat lungworm parasite.
After contracting eosinophilic meningoencephalitis due to the presence of the parasite, Ballard appeared to be edging toward recovery, but he then spent 420 days in a coma and was paralyzed from the neck down upon waking up. All in all, Sam Ballard spent three years in the hospital, and due to his quadriplegic state, required a motorized wheelchair to get around when he was finally released.
According to Live Science, the rat lungworm, which is also known by the scientific name Angiostrongylus cantonensis, gets its name because it usually can be found in rats. There is a chance, however, that other animals, such as slugs and snails, may carry the parasite through their consumption of rat feces, leaving people vulnerable to disease if they consume the creatures raw or undercooked. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s rat lungworm fact sheet further describes the parasite as being common in Southeast Asia and some Pacific islands, though infections have been reported in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions.
While rat lungworm infections are oftentimes asymptomatic, or result in minor symptoms that resolve on their own, the CDC added that the parasite could sometimes cause more serious complications, such as eosinophilic meningitis. The illness gets its name from eosinophil, a white blood cell that builds up in the brain and spinal fluid, occasionally leading to paralysis, such as what happened to Ballard after he swallowed a garden slug, or in some other cases, death.
Meanwhile, Sam Ballard’s struggles continue up to the present, now that he’s 28-years-old and still wheelchair-bound, about eight years removed from the garden slug incident. Citing a report from the Daily Telegraph, News.com.au wrote that Ballard is being fed from a tube, and suffers from a number of health issues, including seizures. While fundraisers have helped raise money for Sam’s medical care through the years, the report noted that the Ballard family is now “heavily in debt” due to a recent and unexpected move from Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, which reduced his support package to about 30 percent of its original value.
“It’s devastated, changed his life forever, changed my life forever. The impact is huge,” said Sam’s mother, Katie Ballard, as quoted by News.com.au.