Sam Ballard (centre) with his friends at the Ryde Rehabilitation Centre in Sydney before he was released to his family’s 24/7 care.
Sam Ballard (centre) with his friends at the Ryde Rehabilitation Centre in Sydney before he was released to his family’s 24/7 care.

How silly slug dare left teen in a wheelchair

IN 2010 at a mate'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".

Sam swallowed the slug.

Prior to this, Ballard's mother Katie had thought her son as a "larrikin" but "invincible", that nothing could ever happen to him.

She described him as "my rough-and-tumble Sam".

But the teenager from the Sydney north shore suburb of Turramurra's life was to take a devastating turn.

Sam 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 faeces of rats with the parasite, known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis.

Sam Ballard was a cheeky ‘larrikin’ before the devastating effects of the infection from a garden slug.
Sam Ballard was a cheeky ‘larrikin’ before the devastating effects of the infection from a garden slug.

While most people develop no symptoms, very rarely it causes an infection of the brain.

Sam (above, with mother Katie) now needs 24/7 care and his family are in debt after the NDIS slashed funding.
Sam (above, with mother Katie) now needs 24/7 care and his family are in debt after the NDIS slashed funding.

Sam contracted eosinophilic meningo-encephalitis, which many people recover from and which Sam initially seemed to be rallying.

But he then lapsed into a coma for 420 days and became a quadriplegic.

Sam's mother maintained a positive attitude and in late November 2011, posted her hopes on Facebook that Sam 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 motorised wheelchair three years after becoming ill, Sam had his mates rallying around him.

Sam Ballard with friends when he was in rehab.
Sam Ballard with friends when he was in rehab.

"Team Ballard" raised money for the 24/7 care that the young man would require, but it could never be enough.

Now aged 28, Sam 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 Sam became eligible for a $492,000 package in 2016.

But last September without warning, the NDIS texted Ms Ballard 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 Sam's support package.

Katie Ballard with her son Sam.
Katie Ballard with her son Sam.


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