One Liver for One Heart
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.