Sam Ballard was a talented 19 year old rugby player in Sydney, Australia, when he was at a friend's house party and his life changed forever
Sam was dared to swallow a slug that his friends pulled from the garden and, in a rare and tragic incident, the slug had been infected with rat lungworm. Rat lungworm is a rare illness with only a handful of cases every year and wide-ranging symptoms that can be very hard to spot. Some cases result in headaches and nausea but some result in temporary paralysis or comas with symptoms lasting from two weeks to several months. The longworm caused him to contract eosinophilic meningoencephalitis – a strand of meningitis - and he fell into a coma for 420 days spending three years in hospital. Sam will now use a wheelchair for life and continues to suffer seizures to this day, nine years later.
In a Facebook post from 2011, Ms Ballard was hopeful that her son would eventually walk again: "Sam is doing really well. He is still the same cheeky Sam, and laughs a lot. He will walk and talk again (thank god) but what the time factor is, we don’t know." Sam's illness has devastated the family and changed their lives forever, and Sam's care costs hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. The lungworm he swallowed is found in rodents, but snails or slugs can become infected when they eat the faeces of rats. While most people develop no symptoms at all, it can cause an infection of the brain and he was unlucky enough to be struck by the illness.
When Sam was initially released from his Sydney hospital in a motorised wheelchair three years after becoming ill, his friends rallied around him and raised money for the 24/7 care he now requires but the family are still struggling with money. Now aged 28, Sam suffers cannot control his body temperature and has to be tube fed, and had been relying on the Australian Government for money. In 2016 his mother applied to the National Disability Insurance Scheme when her son became eligible for a $492,000 grant, but late last year the grant was slashed to around $135,000. With Mr Ballard needing 24-hour care their family are heavily in debt and owe a nursing service $42,000 so they are currently in the process of appealing.