When Christopher Dempsey donated half his liver to a stranger, he never could have imagined that the woman whose life he saved would end up becoming his wife.
In January 2015, Dempsey overheard a work colleague mention that his cousin, Heather Krueger, was suffering from autoimmune hepatitis, a disorder that attacked her liver. She had a 50 percent chance of surviving the next two months and needed a liver transplant.
“I remember thinking that if I was in that situation, I would want someone to help me or my family,” Dempsey, 38, tells PEOPLE. “I decided to get tested.”
He underwent blood work, a liver biopsy, an MRI, physical and psychological testing before he found out he was a perfect match.
A week later, he went out to lunch with the woman and he was immediately blown away when she walked in.
“I remember thinking how pretty and beautiful she looked,” says Dempsey, from Frankfort, Illinois. “For a person in her situation, she didn’t look sick. She had a smile on her face.”
After their first meeting, there was no turning back. They started to spend time together and his motorcycle club put on a benefit to raise money for her hospital bills.
“We were hanging out, getting donations and I thought this would be a person I would like to get to know better,” he recalls.
After the surgery on March 16, 2015, Dempsey and Krueger, 27, recovered just a few rooms down the hall from each other at the hospital. Dempsey wasn’t able to work for two months and only felt back to normal six to eight months after the surgery.
“We would take walks together in the hospital and we saw each other at our worst,” he says. “We grew even closer during that healing process.”
They began to date and in July 2015, Dempsey asked Krueger’s father at a family barbecue for permission to marry her. During a trip to Chicago the following December, he took her to lunch, did some Christmas shopping and proposed after a romantic horse and carriage ride.
On October 15, the couple got married with 300 of their closest friends and family in attendance. The day was “incredible,” he says.
Dempsey now looks at his wife, who is healthy after the transplant, and thinks back to when he first decided to get tested to see if he was a match.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” he says. “It’s been awesome.”