The most innocent seeming thing can change a life forever, and one of those is a teenager taking a dare. That’s exactly what happened to Sam Ballard, who was a talented rugby player from Sydney, Australia.
But it wasn’t a dangerous stunt that wound up doing lasting damage to the youngster. Sam ended up as a paraplegic after swallowing a garden slug as a dare at a 19th birthday party.
Now aged 28, Sam fell seriously ill within days of swallowing the slug whole at his friend’s house Sydney. He was quickly admitted to hospital, but physicians could do nothing as he lapsed into a coma lasting 420 days, and emerged a very different person.
His mom described him as “my rough- and- tumble Sam” and that as a 19 year old the sport loving young man was “invincible”. But after the teenager’s life took a devastating turn, he has to be tube fed, suffers seizures and cannot regulate his own body temperature.
Ballard was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital on Sydney’s north shore, where doctors diagnosed him as having been infected with rat lungworm. It’s a parasite that is most often found in rodents, but snails or slugs can become infected with it. This happens when they ingest the feces of rats with the parasite, known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis.
So it was rare that the slug was even carrying the parasite in the first place – and that Sam just so happened to take up the dare of one of his friends that day.
At hospital, his family was told that while most people develop no symptoms, it very rarely causes an infection of the brain, which is what happened in Sam’s case.
He went on to contract eosinophilic meningoencephalitis, a strand of meningitis, which plunged Sam into his over year- long coma. Eventually, Sam spent a total of three years in hospital and now has to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Since Sam swallowed the slimy bug at a friend’s party in 2010, his life has changed beyond recognition, and he now requires round the clock care.
Sam’s loving mom Katie Ballard would later says of the effect the chance incident had on her son: “It’s devastated, changed his life forever, changed my life forever. It’s huge. The impact is huge”.
He was eventually released from hospital after three long years of treatment, and now has to use a motorized wheelchair. But Sam still has his friends and family to depend on.
They quickly launched ‘Team Ballard’, a fundraising initiative that raised money through donations for the care that Sam would require twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
It never could be enough however, and the Ballard family would come to also rely on state granted disability allowance. In 2016, Sam’s mother Katie applied to Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), after Sam became eligible for a £300,000 care package.
This helped, but the family were dealt a fresh blow in 2018, when Sam’s government funded disability benefits were cut.
Without warning, in September Sam’s mom received a text message from the NDIS to say a review of his plan meant that his funding had been cut to around £75,000. The massive 77% cut in funding was done without explanation, but since Sam’s family had to continue to care for him somehow, they had to privately fund his round the clock care, meaning they have run up a heavy debt with the nursing service.
They currently owe the nursing service £25,000, with the NDIS promising that it would soon begin “working closely with the Ballard family” to find a way to increase Sam’s support package back to a workable level.
In a Facebook post dating back to 2011, Sam’s mom wrote of her pride in her son, and said that she hoped Sam would one day walk again.
“Sam is doing really well,” his mom wrote, “He is still the same cheeky Sam, and laughs a lot. He will walk and talk again (thank god) but the time factor is was we don’t know”.
We wish Sam well on his road to recovery; he is clearly a strong young man, and his mother was definitely right when she described him as ‘invincible’.
What do you have to say about this story? Isn’t it horrendous that a strong young man can have his life altered so much by something as trivial as taking up a dare? And can you believe that the government cut Sam’s disability allowance, even though he clearly needs it?
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