It is commonly known as "The Choking Game." Others call it "air planing," "funky chicken," "roulette," "tingling," "space monkey," "American dream," "space cowboy," and "rising sun."

But when you talk to parents and teachers familiar with it, law enforcement and medical personnel who deal with it, it really should be labeled a dangerous activity, one in which an individual puts his or her life in their own hands.

Using a rope or belt, the deadly game's plan is to cut off oxygen to the brain, and just before passing out, the pressure is released allowing a rush of oxygenated blood to enter the brain. This brings on the experience of a dream world, a feeling of being high, a rush.

While a momentary high occurs, what really results is irreparable damage to brain cells, a condition that could lead to a stroke, or seizure. If the person passes out first before the blood flow resumes, the weight of their body pulls on the rope and they can die.

This dangerous activity, often done in the company of friends, eventually becomes self-inflicted and addictive, and its harm cumulative. The auto-erotic nature (a high of short duration) of the 'game" can also be addictive to adults.

A panel of folks from Appleton addressed this issue before Chilton parents at the Engler Center for the Performing Arts April 29. The presentation was hosted by the Chilton Optimist Club. The evening's purpose was to inform parents about this potentially lethal activity and what the indications are that a son or daughter might be engaging in it.

A substitute for drugs, alcohol

Kids practicing the so-called "choking game" are generally between the ages of 9-16 but it is found among college age students as well. Often these kids are good students, involved in school and community activities and sports but in wanting to avoid drugs and alcohol they substitute this practice as a way of getting high. When such activity results in death, too often it is misinterpreted as suicide. Experimenting with the "game" a child found with a rope, belt or other tether tied about the neck appears suicidal when in fact the child's life was snuffed out unintentionally.

Kevin Thompson who serves as a police school liaison officer at the James Madison Middle School, Appleton, told parents of the importance of talking to their kids about it. Denise Steiner, a science teacher at the same middle school shared her knowledge of the practice and talked about the deaths of two middle school students she had in class, Kyle McCarthy and A. J. Marquardt who died experimenting with the "choking game." Steiner described A.J. Marquardt as "devious" meaning that he enjoyed pushing other's buttons. "He attracted crowds around him all the time and was the life of he party," she said.

Detective Wendy Schmitz of the Calumet County Sheriff's Department shared details of her investigation into McCarthy's death. Moved deeply by whole experience, Schmitz's overall message to the parents was "This has got to stop!"

Kyle's mother Sue, and A.J.'s mother Tammy both shared their family's dreadful experience, urging parents to become better informed of this dangerous practice. Sue McCarthy said her son Kyle was "a quiet boy but one with the love of life in his eyes." One of Kyle classmates, Amanda Kalupa, read aloud a poem she composed honoring Kyle's legacy and reinforcing the lesson that the Choking Game can be deadly.

Shielding children?

Johnson said parents often shy away from bringing this out into the open fearing that talking about it will lead to experimentation. But law enforcement supports being proactive, making its dangers known before parents come to experience the pain of loss. Information given to children will help them make correct decisions when facing it under peer pressure, Johnson said. Through the internet, children are introduced to uncensored videos depicting this harmful activity. It is not as if they are not already being exposed to this destructive activity, he said.

The parents were shown a couple videos of young people engaged in the "coking game" and how he participants suffered disorientation, twitching (a kind of seizure), and risk of bodily injury from falling to the ground. Besides using ropes or belts around the neck, other methods are employed to cut off oxygen to the brain such as hand pressure by another person to the carotid arteries or to the (chest) heart while the person repeatedly takes rapid, short breaths. So-called friends who witness, encourage and serve as enablers of another practicing the Choking Game and it leads to death, could be charged with being accessories to murder.

New awareness

Although the so-called "choking game" has been going on for generations, Johnson confided that many in the medical field and law enforcement have only recently become aware of its practice, and hence it has been under-reported or listed as suicide. It is thought that as many as 250 to 1,000 young people die in the United States each year playing some variant of the Choking Game.

The worst thing that can happen has hit close to home for the Appleton and Darboy families of Kyle McCarthy and A. J. Marquardt, both 13, whose deaths have awakened within those communities the dangers associated with this "game." Sue McCarthy and Tammy Marquardt are passionate about informing others of this practice and warning that normal kids die from this abnormal activity. "It's terribly important that we get education out there to families and schools," McCarthy said.

Schmitz cited certain signs that might alert parents to the practice such as frequent headaches, blood shot eyes, marks around one's neck (wearing inappropriate clothing (e.g. turtleneck) in warm weather to hide such marks), an unexplained injury to shoulder or arm, a locked bedroom, and ropes and bungee cords with knots in a child's room,

Parents seeking more information on the Choking Game, are urged to visit a Web site named G.A.S.P. (Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play) at: www.gaspinfo.com. A compelling video is available at: www.gasinfo.com/involved.html.