The mother of a University of British Columbia doctoral student is suing organizers of a martial arts tournament where she says he was “battered” by an opponent before falling into a vegetative state.

Ying Li says her son Lei Zhenhuan took part in the Western Canadian Martial Arts Championships at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., on Oct. 14 last year, in an event billed as involving “light” contact.

But she says one of Lei’s opponents, who had just returned from competing in a kick-boxing bout in Thailand, repeatedly kicked her son in the head, resulting in a brain bleed that left him in a coma.

In the B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit filed in Victoria and dated Feb. 16, Li says the tournament did not properly protect her son and the medical care he received at the event as “grossly inadequate.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The organizers of the tournament declined to comment, saying the case is now a judicial matter.

Li says in her lawsuit that her son’s opponent had professional-level kick-boxing experience but “fraudulently” registered in the novice division.

“The promoter and sanctioning body overseeing the event failed to take any measures to prevent this mismatch,” the lawsuit says, adding Lei went on to fight another bout despite showing signs of injury.

“Shortly following (Lei’s) final bout, he displayed signs of profound injury. He vomited multiple times. He fell in and out of consciousness.”

The lawsuit says Lei then fell into a coma, and doctors have told Li he “will likely never recover.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to pay for the family’s medical expenses.

In a statement, Li says her son, who had been studying chemistry in Canada for five years, has been flown back to China for medical treatment.

“My son grew up in a single-parent household, and he is my only child,” Li’s statement says. “All my efforts have been devoted to him, and raising him to this point has not been easy.

“Just as he was about to complete his PhD, hopes were shattered. Now, I have to embark on another journey, caring for him in the latter part of his life.”

In addition to the tournament’s organizers, Li is suing Simon Fraser University, her son’s opponent, the event’s referees and others involved with the event.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024.

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