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'Wipeout' third-season contestant dies after suffering stroke


By Christopher Rocchio, 11/12/2009 

A Wipeout contestant who was removed from the competition after complaining of knee pain has died from after suffering a stroke.

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Tom Sparks was competing in a Wipeout third-season episode two weeks ago on the show's northern Los Angeles set when he began complaining of knee problems during the first part of the obstacle course, TheWrap.com reported Wednesday.

Producers subsequently instructed him to stop his run and medics noticed that he was experiencing shortness of breath before transporting him to a local hospital, according to TheWrap.com, which added he was later transferred to Los Angeles' Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

While several brain surgeries were performed doctors ultimately decided the 33-year-old Sparks had suffered too much brain damage to be saved, TheWrap.com reported, citing an email by a faculty member at Sparks' USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism alma mater.

Sparks then passed away on November 5.

"We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family," said ABC and Wipeout's Endemol production company in a joint statement.  "This is a tragic loss and our thoughts are with them at this time."

Sparks' father Bill has stated that his son suffered from antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS), a disease that causes unnatural clotting of the blood, and doctors believe the condition probably caused his stroke, according to his hometown Idaho Mountain Express newspaper.

Endemol conducts physical exams on Wipeout contestants prior to their participation, TheWrap.com reported, adding that detection of APS requires a specialized blood test that would not normally be conducted during a routine physical.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office is deferring Sparks' cause of death pending additional tests, Entertainment Tonight reported, adding a coroner's report could take four-to-10 weeks to be released.

Sparks and his wife Kate had been married for two months and recently returned from a European honeymoon before both were cast to compete on Wipeout, which ABC renewed for a third season in July.

Sparks graduated from USC in 2001 with a communications degree and had worked in both radio and television production in L.A. before becoming a morning deejay on Idaho radio station KSKI, according to TheWrap.com. He returned to USC in 2007 and received his master's degree last spring.

A memorial service was held for Sparks in L.A. on Wednesday.



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