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Undetected heart conditions led to bodybuilder’s death after celebrity fight, court told

SINGAPORE — Unknown to anyone at the time, veteran bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian had two pre-existing heart conditions which led to the heart attack that killed him, a court heard on Monday (Dec 30). This happened after a celebrity fight with YouTube personality Steven Lim in 2017.

World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation president Pradip Subramanian (left), 32, died after his celebrity fight with YouTube personality Steven Lim (right) on Sept 23, 2017.

World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation president Pradip Subramanian (left), 32, died after his celebrity fight with YouTube personality Steven Lim (right) on Sept 23, 2017.

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SINGAPORE — Unknown to anyone at the time, veteran bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian had two pre-existing heart conditions which led to the heart attack that killed him, a court heard on Monday (Dec 30). This happened after a celebrity fight with YouTube personality Steven Lim in 2017.

To help avoid such incidents in future, a new code of practice by national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) is in the works and it will apply to all sporting events, including privately organised ones which are now self-regulated.

These details emerged during a coroner’s inquiry looking into the death of Subramanian, 32, who was rushed to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after an Asia Fighting Championship (AFC) muay thai match at Marina Bay Sands on Sept 23, 2017. He died at 9pm that day.

Two paramedics and two independent doctors took the witness stand on the second day of the inquiry.

Subramanian was the president of the World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation and was a last-minute stand-in for former Singapore Idol finalist and singer Sylvester Sim, who was originally scheduled to fight Mr Lim.

An autopsy found that Subramanian had died from a cardiac arrest and respiratory failure. It also detected that he had two hereditary heart diseases — cardiomegaly and cardiac channelopathy — both of which can lead to various symptoms, including heart failure.

This was something not known to Subramanian or to the event organisers, even though the match participants had gone through pre-match medical checkups.

Taking the stand as an independent witness in the inquiry was Associate Professor Tong Khim Leng, formerly Changi General Hospital's chief of cardiology. 

She told State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam that these hereditary conditions could trigger a cardiac arrest if the person had experienced “severe exertion or emotions”.

“(In this case), I know this was a celebrity match and that he may be going all out to win,” she said, adding that the match-up was “an extreme situation”.

To detect these conditions would require an electrocardiogram (ECG) test, which was not done before the fight. The court heard that the match organiser was not compelled to require participants to conduct such tests.

Dr Tong said: “(To) a cardiologist, the autopsy report shows that (Subramanian) really has a bad heart. Just looking at it, his chances of survival were extremely poor.”

The court also heard testimony from two paramedics who had attended to Subramanian after he collapsed in the ring. He was conscious and responsive, but became increasingly weaker, as people carried him off-stage and then by stretcher to a waiting ambulance. Dr Tong said that the medical aid had been “adequate and timely”.

Dr Benedict Tan, who chairs SportSG’s Sports Safety Committee, gave evidence that there is now a safety framework for sports events in Singapore, though it makes recommendations which are not prescriptive. Privately organised sport events, such as the AFC match, are generally self-regulated.

When asked by State Counsel Zhou Yihong if there are plans for more prescriptive rules, Dr Tan said that a new code of practice is in the works.

While it would still not be legally binding, the proposed code of practice would serve as a “stronger statement” than the current guidelines, Dr Tan said. This code would require that athletes take annual ECG tests before they can take part in “high-risk” activities.

On the whole, the code of practice would take a “risk-stratified approach” to look at the risk level of various types of sporting events, require more pre-participation screenings for events that have a higher risk of injury, such as muay thai.

Answering a question from lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, who represented the deceased’s family, Dr Tan said that the code would apply to all types of sports, even those which are primarily entertainment-based.

He added that SportSG already has a protocol to perform such tests on sport participants for any of its sporting events.

The hearing for the inquiry was adjourned to a later date.

Related topics

bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian death Heart Attack Sports SportSG

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