It all began in early 2014 when Krueger, a Tinley Park, Ill. native, knew something wasn’t quite right with her body. She was achy, her side hurt and she lacked the ability to concentrate.
A trip to the emergency room and rounds of testing revealed Krueger, now 26, had stage four liver disease and doctors advised her to begin searching for a living donor.
“They didn’t think I had much time left. I didn’t have many cells left in my liver that were functioning,” she said. “But from that point forward it never crossed my mind that I was going to die. I just made it up in my mind that I was going to fight.”
After posting her story on Facebook and hanging up fliers at local businesses that shared her story, Krueger said her chances of finding a donor were looking bleak.
“I had a few people call to inquire, but they were automatically disqualified because of weight or lifestyle or wrong blood type,” she said. “I kind of got to the point where I was like ‘I can’t get my hopes up anymore.’”
So Krueger continued to wait and search, until last January when she got a call that saved her life.
It was then that Dempsey, an ex-Marine, overheard Krueger’s cousin, Jack Dwyer, talking about her story with his coworkers in the break room where they worked together for the Village of Frankfort, Ill.
“I just put myself in her shoes and thought about if this were me or someone in my family and I wanted to see if I could help her,” said Dempsey, 37.
By the end of January 2015 Dempsey had completed the necessary testing and he phoned Krueger to say, “I’m a match, let’s do this.”
Krueger said she managed to hold back the tears just long enough to hang up the phone with a man she had still never met in person.
In the weeks leading up to the 12-hour transplant procedure, which resulted in Dempsey giving Krueger 55 percent of his liver, the two formed a close bond. Going to dinner and having movie nights became routine. It was then that the duo began to fall in love.
Krueger said she was amazed all along by the kindness of a man who just a few months earlier had been a total stranger.
After surgery went smoothly she was surprised that Dempsey continued to check in on her and care for her.
“Things just kind of went from there,” she said. “It got to be where I didn’t think about anyone else. I just knew.”
Dempsey said from the first time he met her he knew “she was a very special person.”
On Dec. 10, about a year after Krueger had been told her days on earth were numbered, Dempsey got down on one knee in downtown Chicago after a horse drawn carriage ride and asked Krueger to marry him.
“I just started crying at that point, put my hands over my mouth and didn’t hear a thing he said pretty much,” Krueger said of her excitement of getting engaged to Dempsey.
To complete their storybook like love story the couple plans to marry in October.
Dempsey and Krueger both said this journey has taught them the importance of organ donation and they encourage others to become educated and consider becoming a donor.
Dempsey said he couldn’t be happier with his decision.
“It’s an amazing feeling to help someone in this way,” he said. “And obviously I gained something much more from it.”