From Tragedy to Triumph: Blood donor that gave for the first time right after 9/11, shares story 20 years later

Catherine Dunlap of Springdale relaxes as she gives for the 365th time at Community Blood Center of the Ozarks in Springdale. Dunlap’s first donation came on the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 forever changed America. Even those who were children at that time can instantly recall when they heard the news of the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon and how they felt.

Nearly everyone remembers the shock and fear, the sense of national peril, and national unity. The damage was devastating. So was the loss of life. Almost 3,000 perished in the attack.

The world had changed in an instant. People changed, too. The change in Catherine Dunlap of Springdale marked the beginning of a transformation that would end up saving hundreds of lives.

At the age of 21, Dunlap lived with her husband Matthew Popalisky in Rolla, Missouri, where he attended the University of Missouri – Rolla, now the University of Missouri School of Science and Technology, as a graduate student in Engineering.

Dunlap, like all of America, felt a profound sense of loss and hurt as she watched the day unfold.

“My husband was in the National Guard at the time, so we watched it with that perspective,” she said, “There was just so much destruction. I mean, this is iconic New York. You know the size of the buildings, and when they fell, I realized that a lot of people just died, but a lot more had been hurt.”

On the very next day after the attacks, the university was set to hold a previously scheduled blood drive with Community Blood Center of the Ozarks. Dunlap decided that, for the first time in her life, she would give.

“I didn’t have anything else to give at that time,” she recalls. “We were dead broke college students, but blood I had plenty of. So, it was blood I gave.”

“It was packed,” Dunlap recalls. I don’t even know how long it took. But I had time. I brought a book. The donation itself went a bit better than I had anticipated.

I have kind of weird veins that aren’t always where they’re supposed to be. But since it went so well, I decided to give for a second time the next time CBCO came to campus. And I guess it just snowballed from there.

In late August of 2021, Dunlap arrived for her regularly scheduled apheresis donation at CBCO’s Springdale Donor Center. It was her 365th donation. She’s a proud member of the organization’s Hall of Fame.

She gives every two weeks and has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“I’ve always got blood,” Dunlap says. “I may not have money. I may not always have tons of time. But it does so much good. As long as I’m healthy enough to give, I’ll always do so.”

Catherine Dunlap’s name adorns the CBCO Hall of Fame for frequent donors.