A young rugby player from Sydney named Sam Ballard swallowed a slug on a dare over eight years ago, and finally succumbed to his illness today.
Eight years ago, in 2010, he was at a party with friends when a creature crawled across the table, prompting his friends to dare him to eat it. According to his mum, Ballard was a “larrikin” and a “rough-and-tumble” free spirit. So, he gleefully accepted the challenge.
Katie Ballard told ‘7 News Sydney’ in an interview:
“Twenty-year old boys, red wine, alcohol, sitting at some mate’s table-a slug goes onto the table, someone banters about a dare,”
While most dares end in an innocent laugh or a funny story down the road, the consequences of Ballard’s actions were much higher than anyone could have imagined. After he swallowed the crawling critter, Ballard contracted a rat lungworm, which is a parasitic worm that resides in rodents and can be passed onto snails and slugs. Gastropods (like the one Ballard swallowed) are used to transmit the worm to humans.
Usually, the rodent coughs up the worms and swallows them, forcing them into the animals stomach. The worms are then left in the rat’s feces. The snails and slugs then become infected when they consume the rat’s fecal excrement. If people eat these worms, they can become infected as well.
Overtime, the parasite infected Ballard’s brain, leaving him in a paralyzed coma for over a year. In the end, it finally killed him. According to the Sunday project, he died late last week at the age of 29. Apparently, he used his last breaths to tell his mother he loved her.
Ballard’s problems had begun soon after he accepted the dare. According to the Sunday Project, he experienced severe pain in his legs just days after consuming the slug.
He had asked his mother whether it could have been the slug, a concern his mother dismissed. However, medical professionals soon determined the slug had been the primary cause of his decline in health.
“He was scared,” his mother told the Sunday Project. “So, you know, as a mom, all you want to do is reassure them. As far as I’m concerned, he didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a silly thing.”
His mother’s heart broke as the son she once called “invincible” became quadriplegic. According to the Daily Telegraph, for the next few years he suffered from seizures, was forced to eat through tubes, and required constant care that his family couldn’t afford.
According to Australian health officials, this is an “extremely rare infection.” The New South Wales Ministry of Health claimed that most people who contract the worm do not experience any symptoms. On the rare occasions they do, the symptoms tend to be temporary and mild.
Unfortunately, Sam Ballard was the outlier.