For snowsport athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, the life-threatening dangers that accompany an adventurous lifestyle are many. Every year avalanches, rock falls, hypothermia, and mishaps sadly take the lives of professionals and recreationalists alike — and are chalked up as unpreventable and regrettable accidents. But what happens when a preventable death that resulted from doctors’ refusal to care for a patient takes a life? That’s a real tragedy.
Utah snowboarder and recreationalist Riley Hancey died after the University of Utah Hospital denied him a double lung transplant when they found trace amounts of marijuana in his system.
The 20-year-old snowboarder passed away at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday due to complications of the double lung transplant he received there, after doctors in his home state of Utah refused to perform the surgery for Hancey when he tested positive for THC in his system. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the complications began after Hancey suffered a severe bout of pneumonia last Thanksgiving and was admitted to the University of Utah Hospital. After two weeks in the hospital in December, he was put on life support and doctors confirmed that a double lung transplant was necessary to save Hancey’s life. However, he was denied transplant eligibility by those same doctors after the active substance in marijuana, THC, was found in his system. After testing positive, Hancey’s father, Mark Hancey, said that his son smoked marijuana with his friends on Thanksgiving before being admitted to the hospital.
Upon receiving the news that he was being denied a necessary transplant while on the brink of death, Hancey’s family searched for a hospital that would grant him the surgery. That’s when the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania added the former snowboarder to their transplant list, matched him with a donor, and performed the surgery on March 29 — roughly three months after he was initially admitted to the University of Utah Hospital. Unfortunately, the surgery led to post-op complications from which Hancey couldn’t recover.
Following his death, the University of Utah Hospital released a statement justifying their initial choice to deny Hancey’s transplant in December. “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,” said University spokeswoman Kathy Wilets, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
But Hancey’s family is still left with a loss. "This death is unbelievable," Mark Hancey said in the same report. Hancey’s brother, Zachary Hancey, released a public message after Hancey’s passing to his Facebook page that reads in part: "It has been a long battle to save Riley's life. We know that in our hearts we gave him every opportunity to survive. He will live in our hearts forever. He is now free to climb every mountain and run every river and will continue to do so with his family in spirit."
The family created a YouCaring page to help offset medical costs from Hancey’s treatments and raise funds for his transplant while he was in the hospital. Currently, $24,584 of a $50,000 goal has been donated to the family.