IN FOCUS: A mother's warning about the choking game

Published: Mar. 29, 2018 at 10:44 PM CDT
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A few months ago, an obituary for a 13-year-old Kromrey Middle School student who passed away asked that, instead of flowers, people were directed donations to Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play or G.A.S.P. The non-profit raises awareness about the choking game .

This pass-out activity usually involves teens, either alone or with others, strangling themselves to get a feeling of euphoria. The obituary got a Sun Prairie mom's attention, too, after her own son's death and now she is sharing his story in hopes of saving lives.

"He had just gotten his driver's license. He had just started a job at McDonald's. He was learning a computer programing language. He was looking for a car," said Michelle Servi talking about her son Jack.

Servi said Jack was always the funny kid making everyone laugh. Jack should have celebrated his 18th birthday last week. He should have grown up and graduated high school. He should have pursued his goals but he never got the chance.

"He was sitting on the floor and he used the belt and he leaned into a belt and passed out before he could release the belt, and it killed him," said Servi.

August 19th 2016, 16-year-old Jack died doing the choking game.

Servi said she never knew the signs.

"I thought he had possibly been smoking marijuana, because his eyes would be red once in a while and he would act high and he was spending a little bit more time in his room than he usually did," said Servi.

She said she started to see changes in her son. Not only his behavior but his personality, too, so she took him to the doctor and counselors. She talked with his teachers but, still, the signs were missed.

"He never wore a tie and I'd find this laying around his room," said Servi.

She also found his 7th grade school ID.

"(It's) Basically a noose. I can just show you that you can actually tighten this and use it as a choking thing," said Servi.

All of these signs were found in his room.

"His bedspread would be on the floor in a pile all the time and I would be like, 'Why does he keep putting his bedspread on the floor?' and then I'd put it back," said Servi.

Servi thinks her son used his bedspread to catch his fall when he'd pass out. When Jack died, he was doing the choking game alone but she believes it all started with friends. Her fear was confirmed after going through his phone.

"This one was a screen shot that Jack had saved on his phone and this is another child taking a picture of my son choking himself," said Servi.

So Servi made a final plea to teens who might be tempted.

"If you keep a secret you could end up dead. So if you're doing the choking game tell somebody, so you don't have to have your parents bury you," said Servi.

Jack's death was ruled a suicide and now his mom is fighting for that to be changed because she said we can't fix the problem until people realize it is a problem.

Dr. Paula Cody works in adolescent medicine at UW Health. She said when teens are doing the choking game, depending on how long the brain is without oxygen and without blood flow, it can cause some permanent brain damage and even death. She said marks on the neck, red eyes and frequent headaches are all signs, along with everyday objects used to make a noose.

"We tend to see this in middle schoolers, in particular, because it is a way of kind of getting high without having to use drugs," said Cody.

Cody said it is hard to get data on how many teens are doing the choking game because so many choking game deaths are wrongly called suicide.

If you want more information and resources about the choking game, Cody writes in a blog for


This special report first aired on CW News at 9 on Madison CW, NBC15’s sister station. Watch CW News at 9 over-the-air on Channel 15.2, Spectrum/Charter HD – Ch. 616, AT&T U Verse HD – Ch. 1022, Direct TV – Ch. 16, and Dish Network – Ch. 57.