In 2010 at a friend’s party, strapping 19-year-old rugby player Sam Ballard swallowed a garden slug as a dare. A group of young friends was sitting around at a table drinking red wine when a slug was produced and one of them said: “Eat it, I dare you.” Ballard swallowed the slug. Prior to this, Ballard’s mother Katie had thought her son as a “larrikin” (hooligan) but “invincible,” that nothing could ever happen to him.
She described him as “my rough-and-tumble Sam.” But the teenager’s life was to take a devastating turn. Ballard, from Sydney’s north shore, fell ill and was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital where he was diagnosed as having been infected with rat lungworm. The worm is found in rodents, but snails or slugs can become infected when they eat the feces of rats with the parasite, known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis. While most people develop no symptoms, very rarely it causes an infection of the brain.
Ballard contracted eosinophilic meningoencephalitis, which many people recover from and which he initially seemed to be rallying. But he then lapsed into a coma for 420 days and became a quadriplegic. His mother maintained a positive attitude and in late November 2011, posted her hopes on Facebook that her son would “walk and talk again” and still had the same cheeky attitude. But as Katie Ballard would later say of her son’s life: “It’s devastated, changed his life forever, changed my life forever. It’s huge. The impact is huge.” When he was released from hospital in a motorized wheelchair three years after becoming ill, Ballard had his friends rallying around him. “Team Ballard” raised money for the 24/7 care that the young man would require, but it never could be enough.
Now aged 28, Ballard suffers seizures and cannot control his body temperature, the Daily Telegraph reported. He has to be tube fed. Katie Ballard applied to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) when her son became eligible for a $492,000 package in 2016. But last September without warning, the NDIS texted her to say a review of his plan had slashed his allocation to around $135,000. The massive funding cut was without explanation and around-the-clock care means the Ballard family are heavily in debt. They owe a nursing service $42,000. The NDIS told the Daily Telegraph it had been “working closely with the Ballard family” to find a resolution and increase the son’s support package.