The story of Sam Ballard is one of many in which a stunt between friends ends up completely changing life. Sam played in a youth rugby team and at the age of 20 he found himself swallowing a live snail to win a bet between friends. The story had a tragic epilogue: the boy was first paralyzed from the head down, unable to communicate due to serious neurological damage, and then died 8 years later.
To kill Sam was not the snail, but a parasite frequently associated with these animals: the Angiostrongylus cantonensis, also called rat lung worm. Snails usually take it from mice droppings, eating their larvae.
This parasite causes a bacterial meningitis called eosinophilic in the human being. The disease presents symptoms associated with nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, abdominal cramps, intense headaches and neck stiffness. Sam was taken to the hospital a few days after the accident, precisely because it was invalidated by these symptoms. After diagnosing the doctors, who identified the parasite's infection, Sam fell into a coma for 420 days.
When he woke up he found himself paralyzed from the head down, with great communication problems: in his early twenties, he needed 24/7 treatment. The doctors explained that the parasite does not always lead to such serious complications and that in some cases it can be solved even without specific treatments.
Sam Ballard spent the last 8 years of his life, after an unsuccessful choice among friends. The doctors reassure that what happened to the young is a rare case, but everyone should know the risks related to the presence of snails.
In case they should be eaten, the snails must be boiled first; even vegetables that may come into contact with snails must be washed thoroughly and, if possible, boiled.