To support each other “in sickness and in health” is one of the most important promises a couple will make during their wedding vows. But one pair in Illinois had already proved that commitment, and they didn’t even have to get married to do it.
When Heather Krueger was diagnosed with stage four liver disease in March 2014, there was a chance she wouldn’t make it to Christmas. The prognosis, which came as a shock to Krueger, meant that the Tinley Park, Illinois, resident would need a liver transplant – and quick. “By that time I could really feel my body shutting down,” she revealed to CBS News in October 2016.
At first, though, Krueger, who was only 26 at the time, struggled to find a donor. Indeed, doctors found it “extremely hard” to pair Krueger up, even though they’d tested many people. Specifically, the right donor needed to have the same blood type and a similar-sized liver in order to be considered a match.
That’s when Chris Dempsey stepped in. The former Marine heard Krueger’s cousin, a fellow code enforcement colleague in Frankfort, discussing her diagnosis at work, and he immediately knew he wanted to do something to help. As a result, Dempsey went to get tested to see if he was a match, despite the fact he’d never met Krueger.
“I spent four years in the Marine Corps and learned there never to run away from anything,” Dempsey explained to CBS News. “I just said to myself if I can help I’m gonna help.” Incredibly, he turned out to be a match.
“[Dempsey] called me and said the tests came out great, let’s do this. I’m a match, I’m your donor,” Krueger later revealed to ABC News. “I couldn’t believe it,” she added. It was then that the pair finally met. “We had lunch together and discussed what the whole process was going to be,” Krueger explained.
Dempsey later admitted that he thought Krueger looked great, considering her diagnosis. “I remember thinking how pretty and beautiful she looked,” he said to CBS News. “For a person in her situation, she didn’t look sick. She had a smile on her face.” After their successful meeting, then, he knew that he’d made the right decision.
And Dempsey’s selflessness didn’t end there. Alongside his old friends from the military, in fact, the kind stranger held a fundraiser to help towards Krueger’s medical bill. “I don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation. If this were someone in my family, I would want someone to do the same for me,” Dempsey said to the Chicago Tribune in March 2015.
Before long, then, it was time for Krueger and Dempsey to have their surgeries at the University of Illinois Hospital. The pair underwent a grueling eight-hour procedure as surgeons took half of Dempsey’s liver and transferred it to Krueger. Thankfully, though, both operations were a success.
Now bound together in an extraordinary way, the pair supported each other through their eight-week recovery period. And they found that they very much enjoyed each other’s company. In fact, after a while, Krueger admitted that she began to develop feelings for her hero.
“If it wasn’t for this person, I wouldn’t have made it to Christmas,” she said to ABC News in January 2016. “[Dempsey] was a selfless and brave person who was perfectly healthy and didn’t know me before this.” Soon, moreover, their friendship progressed into romance.
“He had told me at the beginning of everything, ‘You owe me absolutely nothing for this. We can go our separate ways if that’s what you want,’” Krueger added to Today. “It was kind of like, we do have this special bond, but is this just because I’m sick that I’m feeling this way? You had to kind of separate that, but after the surgery, I realized it went beyond that.”
Then, in December 2015 the couple were taking a romantic horse ride around Chicago when Dempsey popped the question. And, of course, Krueger said yes. Speaking of their amazing journey to ABC News the following month, the bride-to-be said, “You never know what will happen to change someone’s life. I never would have thought this a year ago.”
Krueger admitted that even she can’t believe her luck that her savior also turned out to be the love of her life. “I think about all the what-ifs, like the fact that he normally didn’t go into that break room for lunch, or that my cousin is a seasonal worker who happened to be in there that day, or whether someone else would have come forward, and would it have been in time?” she admitted.
The couple went on to tie the knot in October 2016, and at their ceremony Krueger paid tribute to the sacrifice Dempsey made for her in her vows. “You are the most incredible man I have ever known,” she said. “You believe in me and you make me feel amazing every single day. Because of you, I laugh, smile and I dare to dream again.”
According to Dempsey, meanwhile, the ceremony was “incredible.” The couple married in front of 300 of their loved ones, and the former Marine revealed, somewhat understandably, that he has no regrets about his selfless act. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he admitted to People after their big day. “It’s been awesome.”
In honor of their unusual introduction, moreover, Krueger’s cousin was a groomsman at the wedding. After all, if it hadn’t have been for him, the couple may have never even met. What’s more, staff from the University of Illinois Hospital were also in attendance on the special day.
Thanks to the extraordinary circumstances of their relationship, then, the Dempseys, as they’re now known, have had their story told all around the world. And after posting about her big day on Facebook, Heather has received messages from all corners of the globe –mostly overwhelmingly supportive ones.
“I read your moving story and I was so fascinated of your strength,” wrote one user. “Congratulations for your wedding lover from Italy.” Another added, “What a beautiful story. A true act of love. Wishing you lots of happiness from Malta.”
Whichever way you look at it, though, there’s no denying that Heather and Chris have a unique bond. After all, after meeting in the most unusual way, the happy couple found out that they were a match in more ways than one. And, thanks to Chris, Heather didn’t only get to live – she got to live happily ever after.