Who Is the Real John Q. Archibald and How Long Was He Imprisoned?


John Q. Archibald is a fictional character in a 2002 movie starring Denzel Washington. The movie’s title character takes an emergency room hostage to get a heart transplant for his dying son. There is no real John Q. He did not commit a real crime and did not spend any time in prison.

Fact vs. Fiction in the Movie

In the movie, John’s son needs a heart transplant, and he takes desperate measures to make sure his son gets the medical care he needs despite not having the means to pay for it. This scenario generated some debate about the likelihood of someone committing the crime of taking someone hostage in exchange for medical care. Even the movie’s direction and star mentioned in an interview that they thought John’s actions in the movie are extreme. This is a valid belief since people in real life have other options for paying for medical care even if they don’t have insurance.

Class 2 Felony

Although eJohn Q is a fictional story, John’s actions in the movie are criminal offenses in the real world. In the movie, the title character was charged with attempted murder, armed criminal action and kidnapping. He was found guilty of kidnapping, a Class 2 felony in Illinois. If John Q. was a real person, he could have served three to seven years in prison for this crime. However, several factors can influence the judge’s final decision.

The Cost of a Heart Transplant

A heart transplant is a costly procedure with a total price tag exceeding $1 million. In addition to the cost of the surgery, patients must pay for anti-rejection medication as well as transportation and living expenses. Patients can cover these costs through private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, advocacy groups, charitable organizations or fundraising campaigns. In some cases, they’re able to completely pay for the procedure. Others may need to pay some of the costs out of pocket.m

Waiting for a Heart Transplant

The doctors in the movie find a suitable heart relatively quickly. Some patients can wait more than a year until a heart is available. At that point, the surgery takes place as soon as possible because there’s such a limited amount of time to complete the procedure. They may even stay at or near the hospital during the waiting period, especially if they live far from the facility. After the procedure, they have to remain a short distance from the hospital for at least the first few weeks after the surgery.

A Real Life John Q

The movie may be fictional, but a similar incident took place in Texas. In 2015, George Pickering used a handgun to force his way in to see his son who was on life support. He was concerned that the hospital staff was acting too quickly to remove the young man from life support and harvest his organs for transplant. The son survived, and the father surrendered to police, was charged with a state jail felony and served time for his actions.