Here, Liam McGuigan, 28, tells the story in his own words.
￼Walking across the campsite with my mates, we were all laughing and fooling about.
I was 17 and on a school footy trip.
‘I’m starving,’ I groaned.
After a long day of running around, I couldn’t wait for dinner. And then I spotted something on the floor – a slug!
‘Shall I eat it?’ I joked, poking at it.
‘I’ll give you 10 bucks if you do!’ my friend James, 17, said.
‘Oh why not, it’s not going to kill me,’ I grinned, picking it up and popping it in my mouth.
My mates all burst out laughing as I swallowed the slimy creature whole.
Arriving in the camp kitchen, I gulped down some water, trying to get rid of the slimy texture in my mouth.
We all quickly forgot about the slug incident as we chowed down on our roast dinner and started laughing about something else.
But a few days later, I was back at home when I started to feel sick.
My stomach was hurting and I felt exhausted.
‘Let’s take you to the hospital,’ my mum Sonja said.
The doctor couldn’t work out what was wrong but guessed it could be my appendix.
‘We’re going to operate and take it out,’ he said, seeing how much pain I was in. But back at home the day after the op, I still didn’t feel any better.
Everywhere was aching and my temperature was sky high. ‘I feel like death,’ I said
As I sat in bed, trying to deal with the pain, I remembered the slug and told Mum what I’d done.
‘Right, we’re going back to hospital,’ she said.
But there wasn’t even time for that. Suddenly, I collapsed and Mum had to dial an ambulance.
That’s the last thing I remember, until two weeks later, when I woke up in ICU.
Mum and my dad, Mark, were sitting by my side as I slowly came to.
‘You don’t realise how lucky you are to be alive,’ Mum said with tears in her eyes.
They filled me in on what had happened as I listened in shock.
After I’d been raced to the hospital, Mum told doctors about the slug.
Tests revealed I’d contracted eosinophilic meningo-encephalitis – a rare type of meningitis.
The slug had eaten rat droppings and was carrying a parasitic rat lungworm, which had worked its way to my spinal cord. It made a nest in my tailbone, before slowly eating its way up to my brain.
Nurses kept me in a coma and pumped my body with steroids, but my condition was life-threatening.
‘Start planning his funeral, because we’re not going to be able to save this boy,’ the doctor had said.
They’d never seen a case like this before and warned my parents I had a one in 17 million chance of surviving.
Miraculously, I pulled through. It was still a long way to recovery though. When I’d gone in to hospital I’d weighed 85 kilos, but with the worm eating its way around my body, I now weighed just 38kg.
The chances of me making a full recovery were slim and I’d been left quadriplegic.
My brain was damaged and I’d forgotten how to walk, talk and eat.
There was also a tracheotomy tube to help me breathe, which left a huge hole in my throat. It meant I couldn’t get any sound out.
So Mum and Dad brought in a whiteboard, and we used that to communicate.
After staff wrote out the alphabet, I would point at letters to spell out what I needed, like water or the bathroom.
One day in hospital, my friend James came to visit.
‘Mate, I’m so sorry,’ he said, sheepishly passing over the $10 he’d promised me.
I laughed it off. I didn’t blame James. No-one could have known eating a slug would lead to this.
Working with a physiotherapist, I slowly built up the strength in my legs to go from a wheelchair to using a walking stick.
Gradually, after six months, I was able to walk by myself. And regular speech therapy sessions meant I was finally able to talk again.
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t think a silly dare would cause this,’ I told my parents.
By the time I was 18, I’d made a full recovery and could finish my final year at school.
I went on to study at TAFE, before getting a job as a house painter. And I’m now happily married to my wife, Cassandra, 28. But I know how different my life could have been.
When I read about Sam Ballard in the news last year, it really struck a chord.
He’d eaten a slug as a joke like I did, but sadly he lost his life.
I’m so lucky to be here and I’ll be forever grateful.
Boys often do stupid things for fun, but I’m speaking out in the hope readers share my story so they know just how bad the repercussions can be.
My motto in life is hugs, not slugs. Don’t cut yourself short for a few laughs.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.
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