Utah Teen Allegedly Denied Organ Transplant Over Pot Use

Riley Hancey

UPDATE: Riley passed away on April 22 from complications related to a double lung transplant. We wish his family and loved ones the best during this difficult time.

The family of 19-year-old Riley Hancey is speaking out about his difficult journey toward getting a vital lung transplant—which they say was hindered by the fact that he tested positive for THC.

After catching a severe case of pneumonia around Thanksgiving, both of Riley’s lungs collapsed within 10 days in the hospital. The teen, from Park City, Utah, would need a double-lung transplant to stay alive.

But during a routine drug screening, he tested positive for THC, and the University of Utah Hospital denied him a place on the hospital’s organ transplant list.

His father, Mark, says Riley did smoke on Thanksgiving night with a friend, but he wasn’t a regular smoker. “It’s not like he’s a smoker for 30 years and deteriorated his lungs because of that,” said Mark Hancey. “Is this really a reason to disqualify him?

The Utah hospital did not address Riley’s case specifically, but said in a statement: “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. Age and other medical conditions may also exclude patients from the list.”

“[The doctor] was willing to let him die over testing positive for marijuana. That is what shocked me,” said Riley’s father.

After months on life support, Riley received two donor lungs on March 29 at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, which agreed to do the transplant.

The Hanceys found the UPenn doctors willing to work on Riley after being rejected by at least half a dozen other hospitals—though they don’t know if this was because of the drug test or the fact that Riley needs to be hooked up to a special life support machine to stay alive.

His father says the transplant has made all the difference, and that his son is doing well and looking healthier. Riley will stay in the hospital for a year while he recovers. A donation page that’s raising money to cover the family’s medical costs has so far raised $23,514.