Drunken dare to eat slug sent teen into coma, full body paralysis

  • 02/04/2018

Eight years after a drunken dare led to full body paralysis, Sam Ballard's family and friends have spoken out about how their lives have changed.  

In 2010, 19-year-old Sam and his friends were sitting in a Sydney backyard drinking wine when Sam saw a slug crawling across the patio.

He leapt up and asked his mates if he should eat it.

"Eat it, I dare you," one of them told him.

Swallowing that slug was a split-second decision that has affected Sam's life and the lives of those around him ever since.

Over the next few days he started experiencing severe leg pain and was taken to hospital where he was eventually diagnosed with rat lungworm.

The parasite is found in rodents, but snails and slugs can become infected when they eat rat faeces that carries the worm.

For a moment it looked as if Sam may recover, however he then fell into a coma for 420 days and became quadriplegic.

He was released from hospital in a motorised wheelchair three years later.

Now 28 years old, Sam experiences seizures, cannot regulate his body temperature, and has to be tube fed.

On Sunday, Sam and his mother, Katie Ballard, appeared on Australia's The Sunday Project with his close friends Jimmy Galvin and Michael Sheasby who were there that life-changing night.

"It's devastated, changed his life forever, changed my life forever. It's huge. The impact is huge," Ms Ballard said.

"His family have lost him, you know. And all the great times they should have had with him."

Sam's mum, Katie Ballard.
Sam's mum, Katie Ballard. Photo credit: The Sunday Project

Mr Galvin said he takes comfort in the fact that Ms Ballard doesn't blame him and his friends.

"We were just being mates. I have spoken with Katie about that and that's the least of my worries, I only care about Sam and his family and what we do in this situation, what we are doing in the future. My feelings are irrelevant to be honest.

"Just take care of your mates. Before you jump off a roof into pool or daring your mate to eat something stupid. It can have the worse consequences not only on your mate and the rest of your friends, the rest of your life, just take care of each other."

Jimmy Galvin and Sam Ballard.
Jimmy Galvin and Sam Ballard. Photo credit: The Sunday Project

Before falling ill, Sam had been an outgoing drama student and promising rugby player.

Another mate, Mr Sheasby, said that old Sam is still there.

"Seeing where he is now, being able to move his arms or just grip something, that to me is a huge improvement. The walking into the room and a hand is coming out to give you a handshake. It's that kind of stuff.

"We like to sit down and watch the footy and watch the rugby. I try and make it matey and fun - we will crack a beer, when Katie goes out of the room, he reaches for it, he gets his lips out and sometimes we put a little bit of beer on his lips.

"I apologised to Sam about everything that happened that night in the backyard. He just started crying his eyes out."

Before falling ill, Sam had been an outgoing drama student and promising rugby player.
Before falling ill, Sam had been an outgoing drama student and promising rugby player. Photo credit: The Sunday Project

Even though his family and friends rallied to raise money for around-the-clock care, Ms Ballard said the family is still heavily in debt, owing one nursing service AUD$42,000 (NZD$45,000).

This is partly due to an error made in 2016 when the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) cut the Ballard family's funding from an AUD$492,000 (NZD$522,000) package to an AUD$135,000 (NZD$143,000) package without warning.

A spokesperson for the NDIS confirmed to The Project that the insurance plan had since been adjusted back to the original amount, and that the organisation was working with the Ballard family to find a solution.

Sam is currently undergoing a rehabilitation programme.