Family: Utah man dies in Philly after double-lung transplant denial at home for smoking pot

A Utah man who was denied a double lung transplant in Salt Lake City because he had smoked marijuana, according to his family, died in Philadelphia on Saturday, several weeks after receiving new organs at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Camera icon Hancey family photo
Riley Hancey was hospitalized for a lung infection in December, 2016.

Riley Hancey, 20, smoked a joint with friends on Thanksgiving, his father, Mark, said in an interview. The next day, the avid skier was stricken with pneumonia. By mid-December he was on life-support in a University of Utah hospital intensive care unit. 

According to Mark Hancey, a surgeon at Utah refused to perform the operation because THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis, was detected in Riley's blood.

A spokeswoman for the University of Utah health system, which does far fewer lung transplants than Penn Medicine, said she could not directly comment on the case. In a statement, the hospital said: "We do not transplant organs in patients with active alcohol, tobacco or illicit drug use or dependencies until these issues are addressed." 

Penn, however, agreed to perform the surgery, the family said. Riley Hancey flew to Philadelphia on March 11 and waited for organs to become available. He received his new lungs on March 29.  

In the end, a suspected fungal infection killed Riley, Mark Hancey said.  A Penn spokeswoman did not return a call requesting comment. 

"Penn did everything in their power," Hancey said in an interview Monday. "They did everything humanly possible, and they did it with such love and professionalism. They cared from the bottom of their hearts."