Phil Horn is not a household name in Sacramento. He is the Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the Kings and one of the many cogs in the organization who has been doing incredible work to revitalize a franchise left for dead.
Can you imagine trying to sell tickets for the Sacramento Kings over the last few seasons? With so many highs and lows associated with this franchise, the team struggled to draw a crowd each and every night.
But those days are over. The Kings currently rank first in the NBA in new season ticket sales, a stat that the team is more than happy to celebrate. There are new owners, new management, new coaches and a new commitment from an incredibly supportive community.
Horn knows something about support. He also knows something about unconditional love and the nasty little acronym VACTERL.
While the Kings continue to rebuild the franchise, one of their star executives has been dealing with a few personal issues off the court. Danea Horn, Phil’s wife of nearly 11 years, was born with what is called VACTERL Association, and she has been in failing health for some time.
It is complicated, but VACTERL is an acronym for a series of physical birth defects that manifest in seven specific areas of the body. Danea suffers from six of the potential seven birth irregularities affiliated with VACTERL. Before the age of 2, she underwent 10 reconstructive surgeries to correct some of the immediate concerns, but more problems loomed in her distant future.
Included in the list of long-term ailments was the fact that Danea was born without a left kidney and her right had anatomical defects, as well. This year, at 34 years old, her kidney function finally reached a point where doctors told her that a transplant was needed.
“My body is wild, unpredictable, rough around the edges, a pain in the ass (sometimes literally), but it is mine. This is the point that we start from: living with something that we did not choose or approve of.” -Danea Horn
The Horns made a decision to make Danea’s current fight a public one. In fact, she released a book on her struggles with a lifetime of health issues this summer, titled Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Tools for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness.
The book is brave and incredibly honest. She holds absolutely nothing back.
“It took me so many years to kind of finally realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with me or anything that I did,” Danea told Cowbell Kingdom. “Coping with an illness is just part of being human, and it’s much more powerful to focus on what we can control.”
For Phil, he saw the book as a way for his wife to help others through her own personal experiences.
“I think you go through something like that, and you try to figure out what the purpose of it was in your life,” Phil told Cowbell Kingdom. “Why were you given this challenge? And for her, it was the realization that she wanted to be able to help others heal.”
For the last year, the Horns looked for an outside donor, hoping that Danea’s one working kidney would hold out. When they failed to find a matching donor, they decided to see if Phil could fit the bill. After six months of testing, doctors told the couple that Phil was a match, and they started preparing for surgery at the beginning of the year.
On Aug. 1, the day that Danea’s book was released, she received the news that she was officially in kidney failure. As she left for her book tour, her kidney function went from 9 percent to just 4 percent in a matter of weeks, and the decision had to be made – dialysis or transplant. The timeline had to be expedited.
“I think as the kidney disease progressed,” said Phil, “we finally both had a heart-to-heart and said, ‘look, this is happening,’ and I think we have to face the fact that it is happening and learn to control what we can within it to the best of our abilities.”
So as the Kings prepared for the Golden State Warriors on Monday, the Horns went in for surgery together and Phil gave his wife, Danea, one of his kidneys.
“She’s a warrior,” Phil said. “She’s been through more than I can ever imagine in terms of just dealing with physical stuff throughout her life. She was probably more mentally prepared for this than I was.”
Something like this can only bring a couple closer, but for Danea, it meant more than just a new lease on life. After years of Phil standing beside her as her support system, he joined her on the other side of the conversation. He was no longer just a pillar for strength; he became a patient just like her.
“I think when we found out he was going to be the donor and we realized that we were going to be going through this together, it was something we had in common that we didn’t have in common before,” Danea said. “Going through a medical procedure together and talking to the doctors about both of our health and what this meant for both of us.”
“This is such a rare experience that a married couple gets to have together,” Danea added. “I think we felt really blessed by that.”
“Illness can be an invitation to become a deeper, stronger, wiser, more kick-ass you.” -Danea Horn
So far, the surgery has been a success. Phil even boasted about how well his kidney was working for Danea just days after the two left the hospital. This is an incredible story of love and sacrifice. It is a new beginning for the couple, and the decision was an easy one.
“We’re each other’s best friend,” Phil said. “There was never a moment when I questioned it.”
The Horns weren’t allowed to share a room at the hospital, but Phil could see Danea’s door from across the hall. He stayed up all night monitoring who was coming and going from her room.
“This person loves me so much and to allow yourself to be loved like that is just incredible,” Danea said.
It has been a long few years for the Horns. Health issues are just one of the many things on their plate. A self-described workaholic, Phil has been through the ringer, both personally and professionally.
“Over the last three years [with the Kings' relocation saga], it’s certainly been challenging, but it actually set us up, maybe me more, to go through a growing experience of learning to control what I can control,” Phil said.
The Kings’ attempted relocation saga and the health of Danea have mirrored each another and taught the Horns some very valuable life lessons. They have learned to take things one day at a time and live in the now. Their resiliency has been tested, and they have come through. They look forward to a new downtown arena and complete recovery from surgery, and they are very happy to have each other.
The Horns have gone out of their way to make this battle public, even posting shots of themselves on social media sitting in hospital beds.
“That’s really the main message for us,” Phil said. “There are 100,000 people on the wait list for an organ right now and it’s so easy to become a donor.”
For more information on organ donation, please visit www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org.