A friendly dare went terribly wrong eight years ago when 19-year-old Sam Ballard ate a slug that was carrying a deadly parasite that left him paralyzed. And now, after years of medical issues, the former rugby player has died.
In 2010, Ballard and his friends were hanging out in the backyard of his family’s Sydney home when they saw the slug going by. As a joke, the teens dared Ballard to eat it.
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“We were sitting over here having a bit of a red wine appreciation night, trying to act as grown-ups and a slug came crawling across here,” one of Ballard’s best friends, Jimmy Galvin, told the Australian news show The Project in April. “The conversation came up, you know. ‘Should I eat it?’ And off Sam went. Bang. That’s how it happened.”
A few days later, Ballard started complaining of leg pains.
“He said, ‘I ate a slug; it could’ve been that,’ ” his mom, Katie. “And I said, ‘No one gets sick from that.’ He was scared, so you know, as a mum, all you want to do is reassure them.”
But the slug was the culprit, and had led Sam to contract rat lungworm, or angiostrongyliasis — a parasite carried by rats that affects the brain and spinal cord. It left Sam in a coma for 420 days, and when he woke up he was paralyzed, and unable to eat or go to the bathroom on his own. He also needed a tracheotomy.
For years, his mother and government-provided heath care workers provided Sam with 24-hour care and his condition started to improve. But on Friday, Sam passed away surrounded by family and friends.
“The room was so full of love,” Katie said, according to reporter Lisa Wilkinson, who spoke with them in April.
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And Katie doesn’t blame Sam or his friends for the prank.
“As far as I’m concerned he didn’t do anything wrong,” she said in April. “It’s just a silly thing. Just because you were being mates and doing things together — it’s not your fault.”