A rugby player who became paraplegic after he swallowed a slug for a dare has sadly passed away after an eight-year battle with a parasite infection.

Sam Ballard, from Sydney's upper north shore area, was having a laugh with some of his friends and drinking red wine in a garden back in 2010, when he was 19-years-old, when one of them dared him to eat a slug that was slithering past.

Speaking to The Project about the fateful night, two of his friends, Jimmy Galvin and Michael Sheasby, said:

We were sitting over here having a bit of a red wine appreciation night, trying to act as grown up and a slug came crawling across here.

The conversation came up, should I eat it? Off Sam went. Bang. That's how it happened.

In the next few days, the promising rugby player fell ill, and was told by doctors that he'd contracted 'rat lungworm'. The worm is found in rats and rodents, but it can be passed on to slugs and snails if they eat the rodents' droppings.

Sam contracted eosinophilic meningo-encephalitis, which led to a severe infection in his brain, and put him in a coma for 420 days.

Last week, eight years after Sam fell ill, he sadly died. The Sunday Project's Lisa Wilkinson broke the news:

We have some sad news for you now. Earlier this year we brought you the story of Sam Ballard who, on a dare from his mates, ate a slug. He contracted rat lung disease with devastating effects.

His friends have stuck by him ever since. On Friday, Sam passed away, surrounded by his family and loyal, loving mates.

His last words to his mum: ‘I love you.'

In 2011, his mother, Katie Ballard, shared a post on Facebook maintaining her hope that her son would recover. Taking to the social networking site, she wrote:

Physios had Sam standing in the frame at the gym. He spent the afternoon laughing at me as I read him the sports section of the newspaper with new glasses on.

Told him it was the stress of the last 16 months that had affected my eyesight.

She later added:

It's devastated, changed his life forever, changed my life forever. It's huge. The impact is huge.

His mother also battled for years in order to get the correct care for Sam. The family initially qualified for $471,000 a year from the government's National Disability Insurance Scheme, however, in October 2017, that amount was slashed by more than half.

After a media campaign, the decision was reversed, and the family received its full funding and care allocation.

HT News.com.au

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