“I dare you!” Say those three words to any kid, and you’ll likely see a defiant glint in their eye as they ready themselves to prove to you that they can handle anything. But that natural competitiveness doesn’t always go away, and sometimes it can do way more damage than you’d think.
David Dowell was an Australian man who learned just that. His naturally energetic spirit meant he was always up for a challenge — no matter what. But unfortunately for David, he accepted one dare that cost him much more than he bargained for.
When Allira Bricknell met David Dowell, she knew she had hit the jackpot. He was the perfect partner — kind, jovial, and always cheerful. He helped make her life complete.
David was a family man, through and through. Not only did he love his four siblings with all his heart, but he was also a devoted father to his children. Allira depended on him always being there for them.
She described David as “a big kid…[a] joker…the life of the party.” But the couple had no idea that the next party they attended was about to change their relationship for good.
When their friends invited them to a Christmas party that year, they were obviously ready to throw down to some “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Everything was going great until one of their friends had an interesting proposal.
While Allira wasn’t in the room, one of David’s friends approached him. Somehow they had procured a gecko and dared him to swallow it whole (this was not a fun party for the gecko!) David did what anyone would do.
While they look pretty cute on television commercials, but it’s hard to imagine geckos taste that good. But David accepted the dare anyway and gulped down the lizard. The night ended without much fanfare (and no more reptiles), but then the couple arrived home.
The next day, David started feeling a a little off. He thought maybe he had just eaten something that was upsetting his stomach (like a live gecko), but things were about to get much, much worse.
Because days later, David was “in agony” and in so much pain that it was hard to function. This was no ordinary tummy ache. Allira didn’t know what to do, so she called the paramedics.
“When they got there, the (paramedics) didn’t even want to take him (to hospital),” said David’s sister. In fact, they were so convinced that it was just a stomach bug that the two women had to beg the medics to take him.
By the time they got David to a hospital, things were just getting worse. Doctors diagnosed him with salmonella — the very dangerous bacteria that can lurk in raw meat. But David’s nightmare was just beginning.
David’s family could only look on as his symptoms got worse and worse. You can only imagine their shock as they saw “black urine, green vomit, and fluid in his lungs.” They had no idea what was going on.
David was essentially rotting from the inside out. This seemed so severe for salmonella, but that’s when Allira remembered what happened at the party: the gecko. Could this have all been a result of that innocent dare?
Tragically, a week later, David died while in the operating room; there was nothing doctors could do for him. David’s family was heartbroken as they grieved their son, brother, and loving father.
“I didn’t want him remembered like this, I want to remember the happy times,” said Allira afterwards. And now, more than ever, she wanted to get to the bottom of what happened at the party.
Several of the party guests were present for the dare, but none of them actually saw David swallow the gecko. But with symptoms like liver failure and abdominal obstruction, this couldn’t have been just ordinary salmonella.
One taxonomist thinks that a Spirometra tapeworm may have been the real culprit in David’s death. These creatures can live in lizards and snakes and can grow to over four feet in length. And they don’t just hang out in your body.
“[The parasites] wander through the host, go through the tissues and get lost as they try to find their way to the lungs and end up in the [brain and spinal cord],” said Dr. Diane Barton. Could this be the true culprit?
David’s family had so many questions, but got few answers. No one seemed to know what really happened to his body in his last days. They even raised the issue with the authorities. According to them, the hospital did all they could.
David’s sister took just one thing away from the incident: “Look out for the signs and realize how bad salmonella can be, so we can prevent it from happening to someone else.” And little did she know, that knowledge was key.
See, if only Sam Ballard and his friends had known what had happened to David just miles away, they might have been able to avoid a terrible tragedy of their own.
It was a sunny springtime afternoon in Sydney, Australia. The year was 2010, and 19-year-old Sam Ballard and his rugby team were fresh off a massive win at their home stadium. Spirits were soaring, teammates were laughing, and nothing could taint the team’s mood.
In fact, to celebrate the win, Sam invited a few of his close friends back to his mother’s house not far from the stadium to indulge in some celebratory red wine. The guys were a few glasses deep when a friendly dare was suddenly proposed.
Sam spotted a large slug slowly making its way across the back porch. Feeling a little buzzed, he asked his friends if they dared him to eat it. They said yes and held their breath in awe as Sam gobbled down the mollusk.
A few days went by and the slug was now a hilarious memory. However, while Sam’s teammates were still laughing about the ridiculous dare, Sam began feeling quite ill. Shooting pain in his legs left him chair-ridden, so his mother, Katie, took him to the hospital.
Sam was put through what seemed like an endless series of tests to pinpoint the cause of the pain; he wondered whether or not it could have been related to his slug consumption. Although Katie had her doubts, Sam was completely correct.
To the horror of Sam and his mother, doctors discovered he had contracted a disease known as eosinophilic meningitis from a parasite inside the slug. The disease attacked and eroded his central nervous system.
It’s normal for the parasites that inhabit slugs and other mollusks to cause headaches, high fevers, muscle aches, and even burning of the skin, but with Sam, things were much more severe. We’re talking the worst-case scenario.
The parasite that inhabited the slimy meal he ate was far more ferocious. Not long after Sam lost the ability to walk, he fell into a coma where he lay motionless for 420 days while family and friends stood by in disbelief.
A couple of Sam’s close teammates who were present when he ate the slug felt unbearable pangs of guilt. If only one of them spoke up and voiced their opinion about how stupid it was, Sam might still be conscious.
When Sam finally opened his eyes after 420 lifeless days, his mother burst into tears. It was truly a miracle he pulled through, but now that he was awake, he faced another mountain to climb…
His entire body was paralyzed! Sam remained under intense hospital care for another two years. His mother, devastated and overwhelmed by the entire situation, never left his side, and she assisted him with every day-to-day chore without complaint.
Sam underwent excruciating daily physical therapy in an attempt to activate muscle nerves and get him moving again. Unfortunately, the parasite was winning; Sam’s nervous system was fighting a losing battle.
Sam’s rugby mates visited him constantly, making sure he was well aware they were anxiously awaiting his recovery and return to the field. The sentiments were appreciated, but they weren’t doing anything for Sam’s health.
During one of Katie’s discussions with doctors, she told them how her son used to be “noisy and invincible” on the field. He loved rugby, and he was at peace when he played. Now it was a quickly fading memory.
Neither Sam nor his mother held resentment toward his friends over the situation. Was it a tragic accident? Absolutely. But, it could have happened to anyone, and Sam knew his buddies wanted to see him overcome the heartbreaking setback.
In a social media post, Katie wrote this about her son’s situation shortly after he returned home from the hospital: “Sam is doing very well. He’s still the same old Sam, laughing a lot. He will walk and speak again, thank God, but we do not know when.”
The years Sam spent in the hospital made for an impossible-to-pay hospital bill, so Katie reached out to the National Disability Insurance Program in 2016 for help. The Australian government offered nearly half a million dollars to assist with costs and future help, but they were too late.
In November of 2018, after a total of eight years living in a wheelchair completely reliant on his mother for help, Sam died from several medical complications. The battle that raged on for so long had come to a screeching and devastating halt.
Sam passed away surrounded by loved ones, and people remember him for his beaming smile and enthusiastic spirit. Athletes across the world have been dealt horrifically unlucky blows, but not all have shared Sam’s grim fate.