Australian Sam Ballard, a promising 19-year-old rugby player, was having fun with friends one weekend in 2010 when, in an alcohol-induced haze, he ate a snail he found in the garden.

At first everything seemed fine and the group of friends continued to have fun as usual. But after a few days Sam started complaining of severe pain in his legs. He then started vomiting and feeling dizzy. When his condition worsened and he became weak, his mother took him to the hospital.

When they first arrived at the hospital, Sam's mother Katie feared that Sam might have multiple sclerosis (a condition that also affected his father), but doctors said this was not the case.

It all came to light when Sam told his mother in the hospital that he had eaten snails. Sam Ballard had rat lungworm disease, a condition caused by a parasitic worm usually found in rodents, which can also infect snails if they eat feces. This is exactly what happened to Sam.

In most cases, rat lungworm disease causes only mild symptoms and most people who get it recover within a few days or weeks. But there are rare cases, like Sam Ballard's case, where the symptoms are much more severe.

Angiostrongylus cantonensis, the scientific name for rat lungworms, can enter the central nervous system, causing inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord and serious damage to the brain, spinal cord and nerve roots.

The hopeful wait for Sam gradually gave way to despair and eventually, at the age of 19, Sam suffered a stroke. He now needed care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unable to go to the toilet or control his body temperature without help. He spent three years in hospital before being discharged, after so many years he could only use a motorized wheelchair.

Meanwhile, his mother and the friends he was with that night never left him alone. They visited Sam regularly and even raised the money Sam needed for his care through donations, but Sam still needed money because he would need 24/7 care for the rest of his life.

Fortunately, Sam qualified for a $492,000 care package in 2016 when his mother applied to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). However, a year after the funding was approved, without any explanation to the family, the amount was reduced to $135,000, leaving the family $42,000 in debt.

Extensive media coverage and pressure from the mother, Katie, led to the reinstatement of the fund, claiming that it was all a mistake.

But the next eight years were difficult and Sam eventually passed away in November 2018. The last thing the young man said to his mother was that he loved her.