As she packages orders for her latest Christmas tree ornament—a blended kidney and heart design—Kacy DeLong is simultaneously growing her business, raising funds for kidney research and celebrating her husband’s health-saving transplant.
This is the second year DeLong has been operating DeLong Designs, a New Germany, N.S.-based venture that makes Christmas ornaments cast in heirloom-quality pewter. DeLong donates $1 from every ornament sold to the Atlantic Branch of the Kidney Foundation of Canada to help support patients and families.
Along with her early designs such as the Whale Tail Christmas Tree, this year sees the introduction of the design that tells the story of both DeLong’s business and her husband’s transplant.
“The kidney-heart design evokes the healthy kidney of the donor on one half. On the other, it represents the void the donor fills in the life of the recipient,” DeLong said. “All kidney donors are heroes.”
DeLong’s hero is Dave Langley, her friend since childhood. Langley offered to donate a kidney as soon as he learned that Thomas DeLong’s condition had worsened to the point that it required thrice weekly trips to Halifax for dialysis.
“Dave’s not a mystical kind of guy,” DeLong said. “We told him it wouldn’t be easy and it all depended on whether he was a match. But Dave insisted he knew he'd be the donor. And, rather incredibly, he was right.
“Without Dave’s selfless gift, I don't like to think what life would be like. Thomas might still be on dialysis, I highly doubt we'd be expecting our first child.”
The DeLongs know they are fortunate. About 10 percent of Canadians will develop kidney disease. According to the Canadian Organ Replacement Register, around 4,500 Canadians are waiting for an organ donation and about 75 percent of them need a kidney. Nearly half of all organ transplants come from living donors as only 17 percent of possible deceased donors actually become donors.
As her husband recovered, DeLong, who holds a fine arts degree from Halifax’s NSCAD University, pondered her own future. At NSCAD, DeLong had enjoyed woodworking and making jewellery and sculpture. She wanted to return to those skills.
Her husband and his family run a farm in New Germany where they grow Christmas trees, so designing seasonal tree ornaments seemed logical. The family production of Christmas trees and wreaths meant DeLong could tap into existing supply chains.
So, DeLong came up with some designs, and had them made in Quebec. She launched her business in a small way last year, attending craft fairs that allowed her to get her ornaments before the public.
This year, she’s extended her range and has her own website. She worked on her initial business plan with the Acadia Entrepreneurship Centre. Recently, she’s been working with Common Good Solutions, a Halifax organization that assists Atlantic Canadian social enterprises (businesses that address a social or environmental problem). The group’s Lisa Lowthers has helped DeLong refine her business plan.
“I’ve made business contacts with other social entrepreneurs. A business like this is all about allyship,” DeLong said
An important ally is former NSCAD classmate and 3D designer, Aidan Smith, who has helped DeLong with her work.
Next year, DeLong plans to produce her own line of jewellery. Eventually, she’d like her own casting facility. She’d love to make enough money to help fund research into kidney disease.
“It would be incredible if people could grow a kidney from their own stem cells. Research is ongoing into 3D printing kidneys. A robotic kidney is being developed, it does the job of the dialysis machine but works internally.”
Right now, DeLong’s kitchen table is covered with Christmas ornaments waiting to be packaged. She relishes the personal connections with customers.
“I share a personal story of illness and love, and, unsurprisingly, people reach back,” she said. “The stories of hardship, triumph and family I hear are incredible.”