Iowa State alumna donates kidney to her Hawkeye-loving brother the week of the big game
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Some people will go to any lengths to get ahead in the Cy-Hawk rivalry.
Take, for example, Ann Sampson. She is a 56-year-old veterinarian, owner of Scott County Animal Hospital and a retired major in the U.S. Army Reserves.
The Iowa State University alumna grew up in a family of University of Iowa Hawkeye fans.
But she finally found a way to make her Hawkeye-loving youngest brother, Joel Sampson, carry a little bit of Cyclone around with him every day for the rest of his life: She donated one of her kidneys to him Monday morning at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Joel is a 52-year-old radio advertising and promotions man for iHeartRadio's operations in Pensacola, Florida. He lives with Type 1 diabetes.
About a year ago, his kidneys began to fail. He took dialysis three times a week. Two of his three siblings got tested as possible donors. Ann came up a perfect match.
Joel said he asked the doctors to "squeeze as much of the Cyclone out of the kidney as possible" before they transplanted it.
But regardless of how the football game between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones goes on Saturday, Cyclone Ann has locked in bragging rights over Hawkeye Joel. Forever.
"I was thinking I would just ask him for really big Christmas gifts," Ann said before the operation, "but I think I'll just make him wear Cyclones stuff whenever Iowa and Iowa State play."
The Sampsons' rivalry talk is just for fun. What's really on display here is the love of a tight-knit Iowa family.
"They're all good kids," said their 82-year-old mother, Jean Sampson, who lives with Ann near Moravia on a house on Lake Sundown. "They all made me proud."
Joel was born in Spencer and grew up some in Sioux City before his parents, hotel owners and managers, moved Joel and his three siblings to Macom, Illinois. He came from a long line of Hawkeyes. His mother and uncle both graduated from Iowa.
As a boy, tossing and kicking the football around the backyard, Joel pretended to take plays from former Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry. He was thrilled when the unranked Hawkeyes upset No. 7 Nebraska to open the 1981 season, which ended with Iowa in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1959.
"I was a Hawkeye by default, but when Hayden really started to take off, that's when it got in my blood," Joel said.
Joel tried life as a Hawkeye himself, attending the school his freshman year of college.
"I graduated high school and went straight to Iowa City," Joel said. "I was at the Airliner cooking pizzas and having a good time."
Maybe too good of a time. Joel didn't return for a sophomore year.
Ann was almost a Hawkeye before Joel. She had wanted to be a veterinarian from the age of 6, and though Iowa State is renowned for its veterinarian school, Ann visited the UI campus and talked to an admissions counselor about a pre-medicine course of study.
"The counselor just stopped and said, 'Why are you not going to Iowa State?'" Ann remembered. "And I thought, 'Why aren't I going to Iowa State?' I think it was all part of the Hawkeye brainwashing."
So, Ann went off to ISU and became the cardinal-and-gold sheep in the family.
After leaving UI, Joel took some community college courses and got an internship for journalism. He worked as a club DJ and started his radio career doing weekend fill-ins as a DJ. He worked his way up in the business from on-air talent to promotions and eventually ad sales.
About 10 years ago, his doctor noticed a decline in kidney function. Joel marched on with his career until one day in October 2018, when he was at the airport in Pensacola to meet some people who were in town to do a charity fundraiser.
Joel's cellphone rang. His doctor was on the line with his latest bloodwork. He told Joel to come in for dialysis at once.
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Joel underwent dialysis in Pensacola. He also worked as much as he could during the four-hour sessions.
His kidney function eventually decreased to about 5%. He was automatically put on the transplant list for a donor kidney to match. But his siblings wouldn't have it. Those who were healthy enough got tested.
"It was never even a question," Joel said. "That's the kind of family we are."
One brother matched, but Ann was a "perfect match."
"We're a close-knit family," Ann said. "Of course I would give up a kidney for my brother."
Surgeons completed the transplant Monday morning at the Omaha hospital.
"We had to do it in Nebraska because that was a neutral site," Joel joked. "I don't think we went as far as to ask for Pac-12 doctors to do the surgery, but I thought about it."
If all goes as planned, they'll watch Saturday's game at the Lake Sundown house Ann shares with her mother while she and her brother recover from surgery.
Joel, the radio promoter, frames this kidney exchange through the lens of the Cy-Hawk rivalry.
"But, really, the story is about love and family," he said.
Ann takes a broader view.
"If this story inspires more people to consider organ donation, then that's great," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're for Iowa, Iowa State or any team. Organ donors save lives."
MORE INFO: To learn more about becoming an organ donor or to support those in need of transplants, visit www.iowadonornetwork.org or call 515-727-7897.
Register Storyteller Daniel P. Finney grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. He wrote his first story for the Register in 1993 at age 17. He has stacked paragraphs ever since. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsmanone or Facebook at @danielpfinney.
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