Back in 2010, a young Australian man was having a few drinks with friends in a backyard and decided to eat a garden slug on a dare, only for the creature to end up paralyzing and killing him eight years later.
Sam Ballard, then 19, and some friends were having a wine tasting night in a home on Sydney’s upper north shore. At some point, the group spotted a slug crawling across the patio and the teen was dared to eat it.
“We were sitting over here having a bit of a red wine appreciation night, trying to act as grown-ups, and a slug came crawling across here,” Jimmy Galvin told Australia’s News.com. “The conversation came up, you know. ‘Should I eat it?’ And off Sam went. Bang. That’s how it happened.”
The avid rugby player didn’t get sick right away, but began to complain about severe pain in his legs days later.
Ballard’s mother, Katie Ballard, explained to Australian news show The Sunday Project that while at the hospital the family wondered if he had multiple sclerosis, something Ballard’s father suffered from. Doctors cleared him of that. Then Ballard apparently asked whether it was possible his pain had something to do with eating the slug.
“And I went ‘Hmmm no, no one gets sick from that,’” the mother said in an interview earlier this year.
It turns out people do. Doctors confirmed Ballard had contracted rat lungworm, a parasite that most commonly lives in rodents, such as rats. Snails and slugs can also become infected if in contact with the infected rat feces, according to the Australia’s government of health. People can also become infected when they eat an infected slug or snail.
The health agency noted most people make a full recovery, but the parasite can be lethal.
“He was scared,” Ballard’s mom told the news show. “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.”
Shortly afterwards, Ballard slipped into a coma for 420 days, became paralyzed and suffered severe brain trauma.
“I apologized to Sam about everything that happened that night in his backyard,” Galvin told Project. “He just started bawling his eyes out, so I know he’s there.”
The news show announced in a blog post that Ballard died Friday, nearly nine years after the fateful night.
“Sam passed away on Friday morning at Hornsby Hospital, not far from where he grew up, surrounded by 20 of those he most loved in the world,” Project’s Lisa Wilkinson wrote. “Katie tells me the room was so full of love.”
“One of his friends there in the room continued, ‘He had his voice and he said ‘I love you’ several times to Katie.’”