The mother of a B.C. international student says an unsanctioned kickboxing tournament left her son in a vegetative state last fall.

Zhenhuan Lei had been living in B.C. for five years and was pursuing a P.h.D. in chemistry at the University of British Columbia, when he enrolled in the tournament in October.

Lei’s mother, Ying Li, says the event was advertised as a “light” and “controlled” competition, but that when her son left he had an internal brain bleed. More than four months later, Lei remains in a vegetative state.

Now, his mother is suing the people and companies involved. Li filed a civil lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court earlier this month on behalf of her son, claiming negligence on the part of the tournament’s organizers, promoters, host and referees, as well as one of Lei’s opponents.

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

The tournament took place at Simon Fraser University on Oct. 14. Promoted as a ‘continuous kick light’ event – a safer type of kickboxing – the competition was intended for amateurs and prohibited athletes with professional experience, the lawsuit claims.

Despite this, the lawsuit says organizers admitted an athlete who had just returned from competing in Thailand in what the suit claims would be recognized as “a professional bout” in B.C. This athlete was placed in the novice category, along with Lei.

When the two sparred, the lawsuit claims the athlete delivered multiple blows to Lei outside of the tournament’s rules, but that no referee stepped in. Lei lost the bout and was displaying signs of injury, but was sent on to his next opponent.

This opponent also struck Lei beyond the “light” and “controlled” rules, according to the lawsuit. Still, Lei went on to compete in his third bout.

Afterward, he began vomiting and falling in and out of consciousness. The lawsuit says organizers hadn’t arranged for adequate medical care to be on site and that it took them 90 minutes to get an ambulance to Lei.

While he waited, the lawsuit says Lei was suffering an acute subdural hematoma – a brain bleed.

“Every passing minute was critical in treating his condition,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit claims the tournament didn’t receive proper approval through B.C.’s regulatory process for kickboxing events. It claims negligence on the part of the event organizer and promoter, Western Canadian Martial Arts Championships, the company that sanctioned the event, World Karate and Kickboxing Union, and Simon Fraser University for hosting the competition. Li is also suing multiple referees and the opponent who had competed in Thailand.

In a statement on background, a spokesperson for Western Canadian Martial Arts Championships said “Our hearts go out to this young man and his family and understandably, as this is now a judicial matter, we are unable to comment.”

No other defendants responded to request for comment as of Thursday afternoon (Feb. 29) and none of them have filed legal responses. The allegations made in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.

In a statement translated from Chinese by the family’s lawyer, Li said her son had been looking forward to “a promising life” as a future scientist.

“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.

“He is a cheerful, handsome, and kind young man who loves life. He diligently studies and works, often conducting experiments until late at night. He once told me that life only affords a few chances.”

“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.”

He now spends his days lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, Li said.

She flew to Canada in October and spent four months with her son before gathering together the funds to fly him back to China this month.

In her statement, Li said she is a single mother and is concerned with how she will cover the cost of caring for her son for what could be the rest of her life.

“I worry about what will happen if I’m not around, who will take care of him, and I am filled with daily anxiety and despair.”