Doug Dunlap was in his early 20s and on duty with the U.S. Air Force when ocular histoplasmosis began to steal his eyesight.
The best he and his military doctors could hope for was a primitive laser treatment that might halt the internal bleeding in the affected eye. But back then medical laser technology was new and imprecise, so the procedure caused further damage to the delicate tissue. He was preparing himself for a life with just one good eye.
Before long the same symptoms started in his other eye. The disease’s progress could not be slowed, though he managed to retain some sensitivity to strong light.
After a period of despondency as darkness fell over his young life, Dunlap learned that personal adversity — even blindness — can be a blessing.
Now, Rev. Dunlap, who retired last September as pastor of Rock Island Presbyterian Church since 2011, shares his conviction that life, however beset with hardships and reverses, is a blessing from God. He says, quoting the Apostle Paul in I Thessalonians 5, we can and should be thankful in all circumstances.
“Instead of a hindrance in my life, I consider blindness an opportunity,” Dunlap told The Rotary Club of McMinnville last week. “I’m a blessed man, a blessed veteran and blessed to have the VA,” he said.
“Be thankful for what you don’t have,” he urged. “Because if you already had everything you could desire you’d have nothing to look forward to. You should even be thankful for your mistakes because that’s how you get better. A spirit of gratitude can even transform a wearisome job in an opportunity.”
Dunlap and his wife, Fran, secretary of McMinnville’s First Presbyterian Church, were parents of two daughters and a son. But when their son was 23, an automobile accident claimed his life. Amid all the grief and suffering, Dunlap said he and Fran grew closer in their marriage and closer to God in their Christian journey.
Good health has not always accompanied the blind pastor. In 2006, he fought cancer in several sites and manifestations in his body. In 2010, he had to have two arterial stents implanted. A year later the cancer returned, emerging in his brain.
“By the grace of God I stand here before you today,” he said triumphantly.
“All of you are blurry,” Dunlap related as he faced the Rotarians and their guests. “But I’m grateful for the enhanced sense of touch, smell and hearing.”
In fact, he followed his speech notes from a tiny earphone plugged into a personal wireless device.
Following the Rotary Club luncheon, he extended his collapsible, white cane and, with a little assistance, walked to the WCPI public radio studios in the Chamber of Commerce building. The half-hour conversation that resulted will be on the air this week as a Thanksgiving special broadcast on 91.3 FM. The FOCUS interview program can be heard Wednesday at 5:05 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1:05 a.m.
“We are very happy to be able to present this extraordinary program with Rev. Dunlap,” said Mary E. Cantrell, volunteer program director at WCPI. “His optimism and positive attitude should be an inspiration to all of us. We enjoy countless blessings every day, and we should, like the Psalmist David, be in a constant attitude of praise and thankfulness.”