It was a true Christmas love story made for the movies – and now it’s actually a movie.
Suburban Chicago couple Heather Krueger and Chris Dempsey knew they had a unique story to share, but they never anticipated their journey would become the premise of a Hallmark holiday movie.
“I never would have thought in a million years after doing this that it would turn into any of this,” Dempsey said in a recent interview.
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The couple’s romance is behind the “Once Upon a Christmas Miracle” movie, part of Hallmark’s “Movies and Mysteries” series, starring Aimee Teegarden and Brett Dalton.
Just like in the movie, Krueger, of Tinley Park, and Dempsey first met when Dempsey volunteered to donate half of his liver to Krueger, who was in desperate need of a life-saving liver transplant as she battled autoimmune hepatitis.
“I was getting worse and they said start looking for a living donor,” Krueger said in an interview on Hallmark’s Home and Family show.
Dempsey, who the Daily Southtown reports was working as a Frankfort village employee at the time, overheard a coworker talking about his cousin in need.
“I was just sitting in a break room and her cousin was home from school - like seasonal help - and I just happened to overhear him talking about his cousin who needed this transplant and I just thought to myself if I was in that situation I would want somebody to step up,” Dempsey said.
So he went to a Chicago hospital for a test and learned he was a match.
Dempsey’s motorcycle group set up a fundraiser to help with the medical expenses and the surgery took place in March 2015, according to the Daily Southtown.
The real bonding began, the couple said, during recovery. The two were just three rooms from each other in the days following the surgery.
“I started thinking this could be somebody I would like to spend the rest of my life with,” Dempsey said.
“Him seeing me at my worst and literally saving my life, can only go up from there,” Krueger said.
Nine months later, the couple was engaged.
After a day of holiday shopping in downtown Chicago and lunch at the Signature Room in the former Hancock building, Dempsey took Krueger on a carriage ride in the city and proposed at a gazebo outside the Drake Hotel.
“She was kind of in shock and wasn’t saying anything at first. I was like, ‘So was that a yes?’” Dempsey said.
It’s a line that gets repeated in the movie itself.
The couple also makes a cameo of their own in the film, dancing in the background in a scene at the fundraiser for the transplant.
In real life, the pair is now married and has started the process to adopt a child.
Krueger hopes, if anything, viewers take away one thing from their story.
“You have no idea the impact you make on that person’s life, saving them and their family, and that there is life after transplant,” she said.