Hematologist weighs in on impending execution

A death row inmate with a medical condition is unlikely to suffer complications due to his condition when he is executed Wednesday, according to a Jefferson City hematologist.

Death row inmate Russell Bucklew suffers from a condition called cavernous hemangioma, which involves a malformation of blood vessels that can cause blood flow to slow down and tumors to form.

Hematologist Dr. Tamara Hopkins said cavernous hemangioma can appear anywhere on the body, on the skin, in the blood vessels, or in the brain. "Cavernous hemangioma are dilated blood vessels all in a group. Most people are born with them, but some people acquire them over time," Hopkins said.

"It depends on where they are. If they're in a vital place like the brain or spinal cord and they impinge on things because they can get very large, they can cause all sorts of problems."

However, Dr. Hopkins doesn't think cavernous hemangioma would affect the outcome of an execution for most people who have it.

"You know, for most people and most hemangiomas, I don't know that they could or would," Hopkins said. "It kind of depends on where they are. If you've got them on the skin, I can't imagine that they'd do anything. But if you're talking about somebody who's going to get a lethal injection, they're usually given something to put them to sleep."

Hopkins also said it's unlikely pentobarbital will affect Bucklew's execution procedure.

"There's no definitive data that I know says it could," Hopkins said. "Now not to say you couldn't find a case study here and there, not to say it couldn't happen to anybody, because anything can happen anywhere. But, there's nothing I know of that's definitive that says 'don't use this drug'."

Hopkins said she couldn't speculate on the specific effect pentobarbital will have on Bucklew, since her office does not know the specifics of his condition.

However, the decision of whether or not to execute him ultimately rests with the state.