A 19-year-old man was denied a lung transplant after he smoked marijuana in Salt Lake City, Utah (video below).
Riley Hancey contracted a severe form of pneumonia in November 2016. After being hospitalized with failing lungs for ten days, the teen was told that he required a double-lung transplant.
"Riley did smoke marijuana on Thanksgiving night with his friends," Mark Hancey, the teen's dad, told KSL. "Is that really a reason to disqualify him?"
After Riley tested positive for THC, an active component in marijuana, the University of Utah Hospital refused to put the young man on its transplant list.
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According to Mark, his son was drug-free for a year before coming down with pneumonia.
University of Utah Hospital officials refused to speak about Riley's case, but issued a written statement to KSL: "Generally speaking, 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 also cited age and other medical conditions that could play factors in denying organs.
Mark recalled that a University of Utah Hospital doctor told his son: "You will die. You better get your affairs in order."
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Mark told BuzzFeed News: "She was willing to let him die over testing positive for marijuana. This is what shocked me."
The doctor refused to speak to BuzzFeed News about Riley's condition, but fortunately his family knew he had the option of going out of state.
The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania agreed to do the transplant in February, notes KSL.
Mark said Riley was subsequently flown on a medical transport to Philadelphia.
"I looked at Riley and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this poor soul looks like death,'" Mark recalled.
On March 30, Riley received his new lungs via transplant.
"He looked so healthy," Mark stated. "It made all the difference, and he still looks healthy. But he's still fighting, and he's doing well."
Mark said that Riley will recover at the Philadelphia hospital for about a year.
Unfortunately for cannabis users in need of organ transplants, there are no federal laws protecting them.
Bilal Hameed, a doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, told BuzzFeed News: "Just denying access to a life-saving procedure for someone who’s just using marijuana? I think that we have to rethink that policy nationally."
There is no national database that lists which hospitals will or will not accept marijuana users. Riley's family had to contact numerous facilities across the country because the hospitals are allowed to set their own rules.
The Nebraska Medical Center told BuzzFeed News that cannabis use among transplant patients is "a complex issue that is dealt with on a case-by-case basis between the patient and their transplant team."
Massachusetts General Hospital told the news site: "If someone is abusing marijuana -- either medically or recreationally -- they would not be a candidate for transplant."
The University of Vermont Medical Center said it had no cannabis policy, "but our position with patients is no smoking. Period."
UW Medicine in Washington said that marijuana "doesn’t necessarily exclude" a transplant candidate.