A Utah man says he was initially denied a crucial double lung transplant because he had marijuana in his system.
Nineteen-year-old Riley Hancey began feeling ill the day after Thanksgiving in 2016. He was initially diagnosed with the flu, but a week later he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Hours later, his parents rushed him to the emergency room when he began struggling to breathe. Days later, he was on life support.
It soon became clear that Hancey’s lungs would not heal on their own, and that he needed a lung transplant. But after running initial tests, doctors told Hancey that he had tested positive for THC — a chemical found in marijuana — and that he was not a suitable transplant candidate.
Hancey insisted that he had not smoked marijuana since Thanksgiving night, and before that night had been drug-free for a year.
But the University of Utah hospital, where Hancey had been admitted, would still not consider him for a transplant. According to BuzzFeed, one doctor told Hancey “You will die, get your affairs in order.”
With Hancey’s life hanging in the balance, his family searched for a hospital that would perform the procedure for him. But between the failed drug test and the logistical issues that come with transporting a man on life support, many hospitals turned him down.
Hancey was eventually flown to Philadelphia in February, and underwent a double-lung transplant at the University of Pennsylvania hospital on March 28. According to KTLA, Hancey is still under sedation, and it could take up to a year for him to fully recover.
Officials at the University of Utah hospital told KSL they could not comment on Hancey’s case specifically, but said they follow international guidelines when selecting transplant candidates.
"We do not transplant organs in patients with active alcohol, tobacco or illicit drug use or dependencies until these issues are addressed, as these substances are contraindicated for a transplant," the University of Utah told KSL.
BuzzFeed notes that despite relaxed marijuana regulations across the country, there is no clear policy as to marijuana smokers and organ transplants.