A teenager from Utah was told he was not a suitable transplant candidate after testing positive for marijuana in his system.
Riley Hancey, 19, from Park City led an active life as an avid skier and biker until this past Thanksgiving when he fell ill with a severe case of pneumonia, leaving him with failing lungs and dependent on life support.
Ten days after being hospitalized, doctors determined his lungs had collapsed and he would require a double-lung transplant in order to survive.
However, after running preliminary tests, the doctors told Hancey because he tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – a chemical found in marijuana – the University of Utah Hospital refused to place his name on the lung transplant list.
Riley’s father, Mark Hancey, said of his son’s occasional marijuana use: “Riley did smoke marijuana on Thanksgiving night with his friends.” He added, “It’s not like he’s a smoker for 30 years and (had) deteriorating lungs because of that.”
In fact, Mark maintains that his son had been drug-free for a year before his illness.
KSL News reports that hospital officials have declined to comment specifically on Riley’s case, though they did issue a written statement saying University Hospital follows international guidelines for transplants and evaluates cases individually. Other factors such as age and certain medical conditions can also be reasons to exclude patients from the transplant list, they confirmed to the news outlet.
“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 statement said.
Sadly, after the heartbreaking news had been delivered to Riley’s father, he turned to his son and said, “You will die. You better get your affairs in order,” and the young man began to sob.
With his life hanging in the balance, Riley’s family began contacting hospitals across the country in search of one willing to add his name to its transplant list.
Logical issues and the positive marijuana test continued to be complicating factors in finding a hospital to take on his case, but after many failed attempts, the University of Pennsylvania agreed. Riley was flown to Philadelphia on medical transport in February and underwent a double-lung transplant on March 28.
Before the surgery, Mark said his son “looked like death,” but days after receiving the two donor lungs he said, “He looked so healthy. It made all the difference, and he still looks healthy. … He still fighting, and he’s doing well.”
According to KTLA, Hancey is still under sedation, and it could take up to a year for him to make a full recovery and resume his active lifestyle.
— jackie (@jackie_buckman4) February 12, 2017
— Paria Sheshpari (@pariasheshpari) April 4, 2017
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