Sydney-native Sam Ballard was just 20-years-old in 2010 when a slug crawled across a table he was sitting at with a group of his friends. On a dare, Sam agreed to eat the critter. But just days later, things took a nasty turn.
As the Washington Post reports, Sam had contracted a rat lungworm, a parasite which usually lives in rodents, but can be passed on to snails and slugs when they eat rodent feces. Eating infected slugs and snails can result in transmission to humans. While most humans are lucky in that they don’t suffer major side effects, in Sam’s case the parasite infested his brain, resulting in a more than year-long coma, paralysis, and, ultimately, his death.
Last week, at the age of 29 and more than eight years after innocently agreeing to what should have been no more than a silly dare, Sam passed away.
Katie Ballard explained that her son had always been a “rough and tumble free spirit,” and would never have backed down from such a seemingly harmless dare.
“Twenty-year-old boys, red wine, alcohol, sitting at some mate’s table — a slug goes onto the table, someone banters about a dare. Boys will be boys.”
It was just days after swallowing the slug that Sam started to experience severe pain in his legs, and he was frightened as he asked his mother if eating the slug could have made him sick. Thinking nothing of it, she assured him that it was unlikely.
But it wasn’t long after that his doctors discovered the slug had in fact been the culprit.
“He was scared,” Katie said. “So, you know, as a mom, all you want to do is reassure them. As far as I’m concerned, he didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a silly thing.”
After the incident, Sam went from being a strong rugby player to a quadriplegic and suffered regularly from seizures. His family needed to give him constant care, and he was required to take in food and drink through feeding tubes. He also needed a ventilator.
Despite the poor prognosis, Katie remained positive, hoping that her son would walk again one day. His final haunting words to her last week before his death were “I love you.”
The Sunday Project’s Lisa Wilkinson praised Katie for the care she has given her son for the past eight years throughout his ordeal.
“Sam’s beautiful angel of a mum has been right by Sam’s side as his chief carer, never wavering in her love; feeding him, wheeling him, driving him, getting him bathed and toileted, organizing doctor and hospital visits, always trying to find the lighter moments so she could see her boy smile again, waking at every sound in the night, always making sure Sam’s friends felt welcomed in his new, limited world. When they visited, as they did often, Sam’s eyes would always light up. And Katie was always, always optimistic for what the future held for him.”