Apr 29, 2013 9:41 PM by Jacqui Heinrich,

Discovery Canyon student dies after playing 'the choking game'

A dangerous trend is hitting home. Discovery Canyon ninth grader Sean Hill died this weekend after playing the 'choking game'.

The Centers for Disease Control says the 'choking game' is played mostly by older children and early adolescents as a way to get a brief high. They either choke each other or use a noose-type devise to choke themselves.

Few details have been released about this latest local 'choking game' death, but one local mother who lost her son to the game in 2011 is speaking out. Petra Verhoeven-Jordan's son Gian Luc was playing the game alone when he died; the CDC says 87% of victims who die playing the game are boys, and nearly all of them were playing alone when they died. Since her son's death Verhoeven-Jordan has been trying to educate the community about the dangers of the game; she only wishes young Sean Hill heard her message.

In the midst of their loss, Sean Hill's parents are trying to save another life. In a school-wide email District 20 officials sent out this message: "Out of sincere care for you, Sean's parents have given us permission to share that Sean died accidentally while playing the 'choking game' and they have asked us to encourage you to please make safe decisions."

The 'choking game' goes by many names -- 'space monkey', 'airplaning', 'the pass out game' and 'purple hazing' are just a few -- but in reality it's a deadly activity. While kids think of it as a game, doctors warn suffocation is not something to be messed around with. "They could have seizures, they could have serious long-term injuries including brain injuries, and we've seen children die from this," Dr George Hertner of Memorial Hospital told News 5.

"They faint and they die and that's what happened to our son," Petra Verhoeven-Jordan said in an interview with News 5's Jacqui Heinrich. Verhoeven-Jordan's son Gian Luc was about to enter the seventh grade when he died playing the choking game in August 2011. Gian Luc's father found him unconscious in his bedroom when he went to round him up for a soccer game. "He went into his room and took a belt and put it around the top bunk his bunk bed in a very loose loop where he can get his head in and his head out. The oxygen to his brain was cut off for too long and all his brain cells died and the brain swells and it has nowhere else to go and you die," Verhoeven-Jordan said.

Gian Luc, an honor roll student and successful young athlete, was like many kids who experiment with the 'choking game'. Since no drugs are involved, experts say kids see it as a safe, natural way to get high.

Since Gian Luc's death his mother has dedicated her life to warning kids and parents of the dangers of the game. "Your family will never be the same, there's a person missing no matter what," Verhoeven-Jordan said. She only wishes Sean Hill heard Gian Luc's story before it was too late. "It's unimaginable because two children within two years in this community dying of the same cause that is so avoidable."

Monday at Discovery Canyon students held an impromptu memorial service for Sean, but out of respect for his family News 5 did not attend. District 20 officials say they are waiting to hear from Sean's family about when and where a formal memorial service will be held.

While the 'choking game' has been in the headlines for years, many parents don't believe their children would take part in it. However experts say it could happen, and parents need to watch for warning signs the CDC says could indicate a child is playing the choking game. Warning signs include bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck, wearing shirts with high necklines even in warm weather, frequent severe headaches, and also ropes, scarves, and belts tied to bedroom furniture, doorknobs, or found knotted on the floor.

For more information about the 'choking game', click here to go to the CDC's website. For more information on Petra Verhoeven-Jordan's initiatives to spread awareness in this community, click here.



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