Michael Hafke

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High Bridge cancer survivor Michael Hafke meets his stem cell donor in Germany

Published: Friday, September 30, 2011, 7:40 AM  By Frank Mustac / Hunterdon County Democrat Hunterdon County Democrat

HIGH BRIDGE — Borough resident and Clinton Township Police Officer Michael Hafke and his wife Irene have transformed their 25th wedding anniversary into a celebration of life itself.

High Bridge resident and Clinton Township Police Officer Michael Hafke met his German stem cell donor, Silke Keim, for the first time during Hafke's trip to the European nation in early September. Here are donor and recipient in Keim's village of Ehringen, outside Kassel, Germany. Hafke underwent a stem cell transplant after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

With his cancer in remission following a stem cell transplant in 2008, Hafke and his wife traveled to Germany from Sept. 5-19 for a vacation and to meet the person who donated the cells that saved his life.

About five years ago, Hafke was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. A donor with a close DNA match to Hafke’s could not be found in the United States, but a donor match was found in Europe.

She’s Silke Keim, a woman in her early 40s from an area in the middle of Germany called Kassel, about a two-hour drive north of Frankfurt.

Hafke said he would have liked to have met Keim earlier, but German law does not permit communication between a stem cell donor and recipient for at least two years.

When they met, they felt a mutual kinship.

“I’m certain we’re related,” said Hafke, who is also in his early 40s.

The Hafkes spent the first two days of their trip at the home of Keim and her husband.

“They insisted that we spent the night,” Hafke said.

The German couple took the Hafkes out for dinner at a local tavern restaurant called a gasthaus. “We had schnitzel and dunkle beer,” said Hafke, describing the food and the dark German beer he had.

After the couples met again in Munich for the last two days of the trip, stem cell donor and recipient began calling each other sister and brother. Hafke said he has a strong suspicion that he and Keim may have some common ancestry, because their DNA is such a close match and since Hafke can trace his family line to a part of Germany close to the Kassel area. 

Keim, however, was adopted and does not know her biological parents, so tracing her family tree may be difficult.

Before he had his stem cell transplant at Hackensack University Hospital back in 2008, Hafke had to undergo radiation treatment and a number of other procedures in preparation of receiving the cells.

Back in Germany, Keim had to undergo several procedures as well, including being connected to an apheresis machine to harvest stem cells from bone marrow cells circulating in the blood. Once the cells were collected, they had to be flown directly to the New Jersey hospital within 48 hours, Hafke said.

Saying goodbye to Keim and her family was an emotional experience, Hafke said. But the two, who literally have something quite rare in common, will meet again sometime soon, he said, either in Germany again or the United States.

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Clinton Township cops get raises; Iraq war vet, cancer survivor makes sergeant

By Rick Epstein July 09, 2009, 12:34PM

CLINTON TWP. -- Officials awarded raises to township employees last night, but it was the Police Department that got most of their attention.

Patrolman Michael Hafke -- the well-liked High Bridge resident who served in Iraq as a member of the National Guard and who battled multiple myeloma for two years after returning to the department -- was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Police director Robert Manney, fellow police officers and council members burst into applause after he took his oath.

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