If you've never heard of the choking game, you're not alone. A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that a third of the physicians surveyed had never heard of it either.
It's a game kids play where they make each other pass out. But even if they know how to do it, few know how deadly it can be.
One mom who does know is Huntsville resident Charlene Sandel. "I can tell you that it's changed our lives, the entire family, and it's changed this community forever," she said.
On March 7, 2007, Charlene's 15-year-old son Blake became a casualty of the choking game, a group that now includes more than 80 names. And, like Blake, most of those were good kids. "He was an officer in 4-H, he was an officer in FFA, he was a member of the Key Club. He volunteered. He helped with the food drive for Good Shepard Mission," Sandel said.
The choking game isn't new, it's been around for decades in one form or another. But it's seeing a resurgence, due in large part to the internet.
"Click on YouTube or Google and there's "how to" videos," she said. "And they're all laughing and having a good time and getting back up and doing it again and you know nobody is getting hurt there, they're just having fun."
But experts say the videos are misleading. "Kids are often seeing online demonstrations of what they think is the effective way or the most safe way to do this choking game," said TEA Special Programs Coordinator Dennis Macha. "And really when they're falling over on camera and going into convulsions, their brain is slowly dying."
So why would kids want to try this in the first place? Macha said, "They began doing this in groups and they like the sensation, they enjoy this euphoric feeling. They think that it's a safe way to experiment and feel that high without actually doing the substances when in reality it can actually be just as risky as any of the substances they can use because you can really hurt yourself."
For a local student who has played the choking game, it wasn't about getting high. In fact he didn't know anything about it at all. "We were all just hanging out, listening to music, watching TV - South Park and stuff like that," said "John." "One of my friends was like, hey pass me out for no reason whatsoever. And I saw it being done and then we all just kind of took turns doing it."
And the dangerous activity isn't being played only in private. Sometimes, it's going on right under our noses. "Tom" said, "Actually I was in the middle of school in a study hall. Two of my friends knew about it and the rest of us didn't and they were like oh yeah you can choke yourself and you'll pass out for a while and it's really cool."
Neither of these students play the choking game anymore, thanks to increased awareness. Sandel and Macha are both involved in spreading the word through a group known as GASP: Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play. Macha's main target: schools
"Many students were in tears because they knew of someone who was doing this and they were scared for their own loved ones and their friends so it's good information to have out there about the choking game and it's something that's very deadly and people don't quite know what they're getting into," Macha said.
For Sandel, it's different. Her motivation is borne out of grief over Blake and a determination to keep this same tragedy from happening to someone else. "What we're doing I recognize is not going to bring our son back, but I know it's going to save a lot of lives."