The Choking Game

Shawntae Chavez had just started high school and was getting ready to play in her first volleyball game when she died from a deadly game. The game is called The Choking Game but it’s also known as Space Monkey, The Pass Out Game, Breath Play or Choke Out and it’s one that teens play to get a quick high without using drugs. They hold their breath, choke each other, or squeeze themselves till right before they pass out.

More and more they are trying it alone as Shawntae did, using belts, bike chains, ropes; etc and then when the grip of whatever is stopping the blood flow to the brain is released it sends the blood rushing to the brain which produces a high, this euphoria they feel is from the bursting of brain cells and those brain cells are irreplaceable. However, if the person passes out, which takes approximately 13 seconds before whatever is used to stop the blood flow to the brain is released it could result in death from strangulation, which takes approximately 4-7 minutes after the “pass out stage” or brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to the brain, if found during the time periods mentioned above.

Glenda Chavez, Shawntae’s aunt, who lives in Albuquerque, NM where her niece/godchild lived, said she hopes that by getting the word out about the game that the family can save another teenager from a pastime that is becoming more popular among teens for a quick high and also to inform parents to talk to their kids about the game so that other families will be spared the pain that Shawntae’s family is enduring. Shawntae died at age 14 on Aug. 22nd after she played the game alone with a belt tied to her bunk bed, trying to produce that high.

“Shawntae was full of life and looking forward to life, she was athletic, smart, beautiful, she had her whole life ahead of her,” said Glenda. “Shawntae played baseball for many years. She just got picked for the volleyball team and she was excited about homecoming. She had even gone on Aug. 20th and bought a dress for the event. She was trying it on to show us (her aunties) how pretty it was on Sunday evening. She was making plans for college after she completed high school and she even had her clothes laid out for school on Monday the day she died.”

Glenda said she’d heard of the game for the first time before her niece died on a “20/20” report ABC News did, then after that she remembered a time when she was growing up that a bunch of her classmates asked her to go play Space Monkey with them. “I didn’t go because I didn’t know what it was till now,” she said. “The game is becoming a trend among teens in middle and high school between the ages of 10-16 although there have been instances of both older and younger individuals who have been injured or died. They think it’s safe because they are not using drugs or alcohol.”

Glenda said she and her family miss Shawntae very much but especially Shawntae’s parents, Carla and Patrick and brother, Patrick Jr., 3 (“P.J.”). “P.J. misses his sister, companion, and friend very much. He told his dad he wanted a big, big, tall, tall ladder. When my brother-in-law asked why he said, ‘So it can reach all the way up to heaven so we can go get Shawntae.’ They miss her every hour of every day and the pain of losing her is so hard to explain in words,” said Glenda. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. If you know your teens are playing this game get them help, talk to them.”

Glenda makes these suggestions for people who think a teenager may be playing the game:

Supervise them very closely.
Dispose of items that could be employed for purposes of the game.
Warn them about the game. They often don’t know that this activity can kill them or leave them brain damaged.
Alert school officials so that they can monitor the teen. Often other students may be participating.
Suggest professional counseling and support for the teenager and their family.
Check that siblings are not involved in this game.
Consider alerting the teen’s friends and parents.

Some of the warning signs that a person may be playing the game include:

Inexplicable marks or bruises on the throat
Frequent severe headaches
Redness of the eyes
Belts, leashes, ropes, shoelaces tied in strange knots or found in unusual locations
Unexplained cuts or bruises from falling
Disorientation after spending time alone
Locked bedroom doors

You can go to stop-the-choking-game.com for more information on how to stop the activity and find links to other families that have lost children to the game. Glenda urges all kids who are playing the game to stop playing, talk to their parents, and get help and for educators to contact her at 505-296-5670 or go to the website and do presentations, give handouts out; etc. to get the word out and save kids from the game.

“Know that Shawntae was bright and full of life that just one bad choice like this with any type of drug can cause death. All teens think they are invincible but they’re not,” said Glenda. She says that she feels the game has changed and gotten more deadly in the last 20 years. Shawntae’s website which her father has made in her honor is shawntae-chavez.memory-of.com.

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