In 2010, 19-year-old Sam Bullard ate a slug on a dare. He was drinking with a handful of friends when the slug crawled across his patio. In a video interview last year, friend Jimmy Galvin said, “We were sitting over here, having a bit of red wine appreciation night, trying to act as grown-ups… And then the conversation came up, ‘Should I eat it?’ And then off Sam went and bang, that’s how it happened.”
On Friday, Ballard died at age 28 after contracting rat lungworm disease from the slug.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. He Contracted Rat Lungworm After Eating a Slug at His Friend Jimmy’s House
In 2010, not long after graduating, Sam was spending time at his friend Jimmy’s house. He was hanging out in the backyard with a group of friends, when they spotted a snail. The friends then dared one another to eat the snail, and Sam was the one who did so.
Not long after eating the slug, Sam started to feel sick. He mentioned to his mother and the doctors that he had eaten a slug earlier. Physicians subsequently determined that Sam had been infected with rat lungworm disease.
According to NSW Health, the disease is often found in slugs and snails after they eat rat feces. People can reportedly become infected after eating snails that contain the lungworm larvae, or after eating unwashed lettuce contaminated by the snails or slugs. The parasite is more common in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia. The outlet writes that “only occasionally” is the infection fatal, and it rarely causes an infection of the brain.
2. He Was in a Coma for 420 Days
After being diagnosed with eosinophilic meningoencephalitis, a form of meningitis that results from consuming a contaminated snail, Sam went into a coma for 420 days.
When he woke up, according to the Independent, he had a serious brain injury and became a quadriplegic– complications from his previous illnesses left him in “need of constant care.”
Lisa Wilkinson, who wrote a piece about Sam for Ten Daily, wrote, “While doctors had managed to save him in time, he was now confined to a wheelchair, with limited communication skills, and needing 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week care.” Three years after becoming ill, he was released from hospital, and given a motorised wheelchair.
3. He Passed Away Surrounded by Loved Ones
According to Ten Daily, Sam passed away on Friday morning at Hornsby Hospital. He was surrounded by “20 people of those he loved most in the world.”
Katie, his mother, tells Ten Daily that “the room was so full of love.”
His mother was also his main caretaker for the past almost-nine years. Wilkinson writes, “Sam’s beautiful angel of a mum Katie has been right by Sam’s side as his chief carer, never wavering in her love; feeding him, wheeling him, driving him, getting him bathed and toileted, organising doctor and hospital visits, always trying to find the lighter moments so she could see her boy smile again, waking at every sound in the night, always making sure Sam’s friends felt welcomed in his new, limited world. When they visited, as they did often, Sam’s eyes would always light up.”
4. He Was a Rugby Player
Sam was a promising rugby player growing up.
He was a student at Barker College.
In March of this year, News.com.au released an article that detailed how Sam was fighting the government after funding for his hospital care was cut. In 2016, Katie applied to the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) after Sam became eligible for a $492,000 package, according to the outlet.
In September 2017, without any warning, she was told that the funding would be decreasing to $135,000. News.com.au writes, “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.”
When the Daily Telegraph reached out to the NDIS, they were told that they had been “working closely with the Ballard family” to find a resolution. It is unclear what resolution was met.
5. His Last Words to His Mother Were: ‘I Love You’
According to Lisa Wilkinson, Sam’s last words to his mother were, “I love you.”
His friend added, “He had his voice and he said ‘I love you’ several times to Katie.”
He was 29.