In 2010, a backyard slug and a rash decision left a passionate football player on Sydney’s north shore paralysed.
Sam Ballard had been drinking with friends at what his mate Jimmy Galvin dubbed a ‘red wine appreciation night’, when the critter appeared and a silly dare sealed his fate.
‘We were sitting, having a bit of a red wine appreciation night, trying to act as grown ups and a slug came crawling across,’ he told The Project.
‘The conversation came up, “Should I eat it?” Off Sam went. Bang. That’s how it happened,’ Mr Galvin said.
Sam Ballard (pictured) was just 19 when a silly party dare to eat a slug left him a quadriplegic
Sam, now 28, was poisoned by the slug and spent more than 420 days in a coma
Sam is fed through a tube, suffers seizures, and requires a full time carer to get by each day
Soon after Mr Ballard fell ill and was told by doctors he had been infected with rat lungworm.
The worm is commonly found in rats but snails or slugs can be infected when they eat rodent droppings.
Rarely the parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis causes an infection on the brain.
Tragically Sam contracted eosinophilic meningo-encephalitis and lapsed into a coma for more than 420 days.
Mr Ballard was released from hospital in a wheelchair, three years after he fell ill.
Now aged 28, Mr Ballard is tube fed, suffers seizures and struggles to control his body temperature.
His friends, Jimmy Galvin (left) and Michael Sheasby (right) have stood by him through his struggles and continue to do regular ‘matey’ things with him
The boys drop in to Sam’s house when he isn’t undergoing strenuous rehabilitation
Mr Ballard’s other friend, Michael Sheasby, told The Project he was speechless when he walked into Sam’s hospital room and saw the state he was in.
‘When I walked in, he was very very gaunt, and there were cables everywhere- it was a big shock,’ he said.
Despite the massive changes in Sam’s life, his friends are still rallying around him nine years later.
Mr Galvin and Mr Sheasby say under his disability, flashes of their friend appear. His eyes light up when the boys walk in the room, he’s regained enough function to extend an arm for a handshake, and he’s retained his love for beer.
‘We like to sit down, watch the footy… I try and keep it ‘matey’ and fun still and do as many of the same things as we used to do,’ Mr Galvin said.
Mr Galvin said the pair will often sit and watch the football together and the boys still enjoy themselves
Mr Galvin says he can still see flashes of Sam’s larrikin personality, and the 28-year-old often tries to steal his beer
Sam was released from hospital in a wheelchair, three years after he fell ill
His mother Katie (pictured) says she doesn’t blame the boys, or her son, for what happened
‘He actually makes me laugh – we’ll crack a beer sometimes and when Katie goes out of the room he reaches for it and puts his lips out – sometimes we’ll put a little bit on his lips.’
Katie Ballard, Sam’s mother, says she doesn’t blame the boys for their silly dare, or her son for taking them up on it.
‘As far as I’m concerned, [Sam] didn’t do anything wrong – it’s just a silly thing,’ she said.
Mrs Ballard said the boys were just ‘being mates’ on that fateful night, and she couldn’t hold them at fault – but they have taken a serious lesson from the situation.
‘Just take care of your mates. Before you jump off a roof into pool or dare your mate to eat something stupid,’ Mr Galvin said.
‘It can have the worst consequences – not only on your mate and the rest of your friends, the rest of your life, just take care of each other.’
The boys say they learned an important lesson from the experience though, and encourage other young people to look out for their mates – and think twice about silly party dares