One Liver for One Heart

Reader's Digest - - Reader’s Digest - BY BRAN­DON SPECKTOR

hris Dempsey first learned about Heather Krueger when he was on his break at work. A code en­force­ment of­fi­cer for the vil­lage of Frank­fort, Illi­nois, Dempsey over­heard his co­worker Jack Dwyer men­tion that his cousin Heather had just been di­ag­nosed with stage IV liver dis­ease. She was only 25, Dwyer said, but she wouldn’t sur­vive much longer un­less she could se­cure a liver trans­plant from a live donor.

“If some­one in my fam­ily were in Heather’s sit­u­a­tion, I would want some­body to step up and help me,” says Dempsey, who was 36 at the time. So he got the con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the trans­plant co­or­di­na­tor


from Dwyer and started the test­ing to de­ter­mine whether his liver was com­pat­i­ble with hers. He wasn’t sure what to ex­pect or what would hap­pen to Krueger if he wasn’t a match. But a few weeks later, the tests came back. They were pos­i­tive, and Dempsey was cleared to give up to 55 per­cent of his liver to save Krueger’s life.

Dempsey wanted to call and give Krueger, in nearby Tin­ley Park, the news him­self. Though they’d texted, they’d never spo­ken be­fore. Af­ter Krueger hung up the phone, she ran down the hall to her mother and cried. When Dempsey hung up, he felt “like a to­tally new per­son.”

A few days later, over lunch at a Mex­i­can restau­rant in Frank­fort, Dempsey and Krueger met to dis­cuss the op­er­a­tion, but they ended up talk­ing about much more, es­pe­cially their fam­i­lies and ca­reers. Krueger ex­plained that she had quit her job as a nurs­ing as­sis­tant when her ill­ness be­came too drain­ing. Still, as Dempsey re­mem­bers it, “she didn’t look like a per­son who was sick. She was beau­ti­ful, and she had this smile on her face the en­tire time. It was amaz­ing how high her spir­its were.”

The trans­plant surgery was set for a month later, on March 16, 2015. In the pre­ced­ing weeks, Dempsey and Krueger saw a lot of each other. The two planned for the op­er­a­tion, as well as for a ben­e­fit auc­tion to help de­fray Krueger’s med­i­cal bills. Now and then, they went out for din­ner. Dempsey soon found him­self think­ing about Krueger con­stantly. He won­dered whether the feel­ing was mu­tual un­til, shortly be­fore the surgery, she in­vited him to watch a movie at her house. “Part­way through, she kind of leaned in and gave me a kiss,” he re­calls.

On the day of the trans­plant, Dempsey and Krueger sat side by side in hos­pi­tal beds, sur­rounded by their fam­i­lies. Dempsey was wheeled into the op­er­at­ing room first. “I’ll see you in a bit,” he told Krueger as he left for his eight-hour surgery. “This is all gonna work out.”

And so it did. They were both re­leased from the hos­pi­tal within a month, but they weren’t ready to go their sep­a­rate ways. On the con­trary: That De­cem­ber, af­ter shop­ping for Christ­mas presents, Dempsey pro­posed to Krueger on a horse-and­car­riage ride. They were mar­ried on Oc­to­ber 15, 2016. “You’re the most in­cred­i­ble man I’ve ever known,” Krueger told Dempsey in her vows. “Be­cause of you, I laugh and smile, and I dare to dream again.”

The Dempseys on their wed­ding an­niver­sary. “You saved me just as much as I saved you,” he of­ten says.

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