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Sam, who became paralysed after eating a slug at 19, has died.

Sam Ballard, who at 19 was permanently disabled after eating a garden slug at a party, has passed away aged 28.

Sam’s passing on Friday was announced to the world by The Sunday Project’s Lisa Wilkinson.

“On Friday, Sam passed away, surrounded by his family and loyal, loving mates,” she told viewers. “His last words to his mum: ‘I love you’.”

In April, The Project brought us the story of Sam.

On a night in 2010, the 19-year-old and his friends were sitting outside, drinking red wine and “trying to act as grown ups”.

When Sam spotted a slug crawling across the patio, he didn’t think twice before saying, “Should I eat it?”

It was a split-second decision that changed Sam’s life forever.

Over the next few days, Sam – a promising football player – began experiencing severe pain in his legs. Doctors originally feared Sam had developed Multiple Sclerosis, like his father, but tests came back negative.

While his mother Katie pushed him in a wheelchair towards the water a few days later, Sam declared he had eaten a slug just a few days earlier.

“Could it be that?” he asked.

Sam Ballard with friends
Sam Ballard with his friends. Image via Channel Ten.
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Katie responded with, "No-one gets sick from that". But doctors soon discovered Sam had been infected with rat lungworm, which can be carried by slugs and can lead to permanent brain and nerve damage in humans.

Sam fell into a coma, which lasted for 420 days. Sam was paralysed, suffered seizures and could not control his body temperature. He required tube-feeding and 24-hour care.

In an interview with The Project, Sam's friends described the moment they first saw their mate after he fell ill.

"When I walked in, he was very, very gaunt... and there were cables everywhere. It was a big shock," Michael Sheasby told Wilkinson.

Sam Ballard friends Jimmy Michael
Sam's friends Jimmy Galvin (L) and Michael Sheasby. Image via Channel Ten.

"To see in such a quick amount of time how differently someone can look... it's scary. My mate's fighting for his life here," friend Jimmy Galvin added.

At the time, Jimmy and Michael described their visits with their mate.

"We like to sit down and watch the footy... I try and keep it 'matey' and fun and try and do as many of the same things we used to do," Jimmy said.

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"He makes me laugh because we'll crack a beer sometimes and when [his mum] goes out of the room he reaches for it... sometimes we put a little bit of beer on his lips.

"He's in there, 100 per cent."

Jimmy and Sam Ballard
Jimmy said Sam is still "100 per cent" there when he visits. Image via Channel Ten.

But they still felt responsible for Sam's condition, with Jimmy admitting that he used to apologise to Sam often for "everything that happened".

After the accident, Katie and his family battled with the NDIS to maintain Sam's level of car, all the while being attacked by cruel online trolls.

"Horrible, horrible, horrible stuff... [saying] the boys should be the ones paying for Sam to be looked after, how stupid that a kid does something like that and expects everybody to pay for it," Katie said.

But she didn't blame Sam - or his friends - for what happened.

Katie Ballard
Sam's mum, Katie, doesn't blame Sam or his friends for what happened. Image via Channel Ten.

"Just because you were being mates and doing things together, it's not your fault," Katie said.

"As far as I'm concerned, he didn't do anything wrong... it was just a silly thing."

But Jimmy and Michael say teens - and teenage boys in particular - should always look out for the safety of their mates.

"Just take care of your mates," Jimmy said.

"Before you jump off a roof into a pool, or if you're daring a mate to eat something stupid, just think about it, because it can have the worst consequences.

"Not only on your mate, their family and the rest of your friends, but the rest of your life.

"Just take care of each other."

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