Back in 2010 at a friend's party, an athletic and healthy 19-year-old rugby player named Sam Ballard swallowed a garden slug after a friend dared him to eat it.
"Eat it, I dare you," he said. The group of friends was sitting around a table drinking red wine when one of them found a slug. Ballard accepted the challenge and swallowed the slug. At this time in his life, he was considered "invincible" by his mother who believed nothing could ever happen to him.
Ballard's mother described him as "my rough-and-tumble Sam." That is until his life took a drastic turn for the worse. Living in Sydney's north shore, Ballard fell ill and was taken to Royal North Shore hospital. It was there at the hospital he found out he had been infected with rat lungworm.
This type of parasitic worm is found in rodents, but snails or slugs can become infected when they ingest the feces of rats who were themselves infected. The parasite is known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis and upon infection, most people display no symptoms. However, very rarely it can cause an infection of the brain.
Katie Ballard, Sam's mother, would later say, "It’s devastated, changed his life forever, changed my life forever. It’s huge. The impact is huge." He was released from the hospital three years after he became ill, and even then he was forced to rely on a motorized wheelchair.
A group known as "Team Ballard" raised money for his full-time care that he would now need but it would not be enough. Ballard is now 28, he suffers from seizures and cannot regulate his body temperature. His mother applied to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and found out he was eligible for a $492,000 package in 2016.
Last September and without warning, the NDIS texted Katie Ballard and said a review of his plan had slashed his allocation to around $135,000. His family currently owes a nursing service $42,000 and they are unsure how they will handle his full-time future care.
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