‘Choking game’ proves deadly

The Orlando Sentinel


David Cody Hudson, just 12 years old, died after his sisters found him unconscious on his bedroom floor with a karate belt tied around his neck in October 2007.

After the medical examiner pointed out the marks on his neck were inconsistent with suicide, Leesburg police detectives determined David’s death was the result of the “choking game.”

At least seven minors have died in Central Florida under similar circumstances resembling suicides since 2000, but experts say their deaths were the result of playing the choking game: a risky practice that restricts blood and oxygen flow to the brain to achieve a high. And the deadly game is gaining popularity among children and teens.

Despite news reports and national studies on the choking game, many parents are unaware their children could be playing it.

The choking game should not be confused with erotic asphyxiation, which is a similar practice restricting oxygen flow to the brain, and mostly performed by adults, for sexual pleasure. Those who play the choking game are doing it solely for the euphoria that can result.

“[David] learned it from friends at school,” his grandfather Jim Hudson of Fruitland Park, Fla., said. “He was a little daredevil and curious. If someone dared him to do something, he would do it.”

David’s case illustrates what experts are saying about the disturbing trend: that kids are learning about it from friends at school, at parties and on YouTube.

“The amount of children who know what the choking game is greatly outnumbers the parents who are aware of it,” said Kate Leonardi, founder of The Dangerous Behaviors Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks choking-game deaths. “Parents need to include a chat about the choking game in the same conversation about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, sex and other risky behaviors.”

Leonardi lost her 11-year-old son, Dylan Blake, to the choking game in October 2005 in St. Augustine, Fla. She had never heard of it until three weeks after his death, and learned from family and Dylan’s friends that he had played it before.

Fourteen-year-old Izaac d’Aquin of Miami died playing the choking game in October 2010.

“You need to become very aware about this very horrible thing that is attacking our youth today,” his father, Santiago Dobles, wrote on his martial arts blog shortly after his son died. “You will soon realize it is worse than drugs, highly addictive, easy to do and legal.”

More than 100 children across the nation have died from the choking game since 1995, according to a 2008 report compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The count is based on news reports and advocacy organizations. Most who died were boys, at an average age of 13.

But experts think there could be hundreds more because medical examiners often classify choking-game deaths as accidental asphyxia from hanging. The CDC’s mortality reports also do not specify “choking game” as a cause of death.

The website for the nonprofit G.A.S.P., which stands for Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play, estimates that 250 to 1,000 young people die in the United States and Canada each year because of the game, though most are reported as suicides.

Dr. Jan Garavaglia, chief medical examiner at the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s Office, agrees the number of deaths from the choking game is likely underreported.

“Law enforcement investigators and doctors in other states may not be as familiar with the choking game to identify it,” Garavaglia said. “A huge red flag is the age. Suicides in that age group are extremely rare.”

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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