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Students and parents fundraise to help teacher, quadruple amputee, drive again

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Five months after they began their fundraising campaign, Anne Mekalian's former students at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen School in Homeland and their parents are still raising money to help the longtime teacher drive as a quadruple amputee.

"We're here to help her get where she wants to go," said parent Lisa Hobbs, of Cedarcroft, perusing items in a silent auction Sept. 30 at Zen West, a restaurant near Belvedere Square.

Items included Under Armour sports gear, a Pandora bracelet from Smyth Jewelers, an autographed picture of Cal Ripken and gift cards to local restaurants and businesses.

Hobbs, whose daughter, Ramsay, 11, attends Cathedral School, was among 75 people who took over a back room at the restaurant from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Organizer Trudy Brown, of Cedarcroft, said the fundraiser, which also included a 50-50 raffle, raised $4,600 for Mekalian, 66, a former Cathedral School teacher at Cathedral, who lost her arms and legs due to a sepsis infection.

Also attending the benefit at Zen West were members of Home Alone, a book club of which Mekalian is a member and which includes members whose grown daughters all graduated from Roland Park Country School, including Mekalian's daughter, Lauren, 27, of Owings Mills.

That brings the fundraising total since the campaign began to more than $30,000. Brown and other organizers are hoping to raise $52,000 to buy Mekalian a car and to specially equip it so that she can drive.

Brown's daughter, Casey, 10, was a third-grader at Cathedral School in 2011 when she heard that Mekalian had been hospitalized. Casey started a fundraising effort by 23 of her former classmates this past spring that her mother said has raised more than $25,000, not counting proceeds from the benefit at Zen West.

Casey said late in the afternoon at Zen West that she had been there all day, "except for a soccer game."

Also there, video camera in hand, was Connie Bottinelli, a family friend of the Browns, who is a professional documentary filmmaker and is making a movie about Mekalian's ordeal and the children's initiative.

Mekalian spent six weeks at St. Joseph's Hospital fighting for her life after being diagnosed with strep throat and double pneumonia, and then with sepsis, a complication from infection that ceased circulation to her arms and legs.

"I remember waking up and wondering why I had black hands," she said during an interview in May.

The news filtered down to Mekalian's third-graders at Cathedral School.

"We were terrified," Casey said in May.

Doctors amputated Mekalian's arms and legs. She now has prosthetic limbs and passed her driving test Sept. 28 at the Motor Vehicle Administration office in Hagerstown.

"I was very nervous," she said at Zen West. "I was like a 16-year-old."

But working with a specially trained driving instructor has been costly — $125 each for 10 lessons, she said — and she needs to buy a larger car and then outfit it with special equipment. Just the adaptations will cost $14,000, not including voice recognition technology for voice commands, she said.

The best news is that many months of physical therapy are winding down for Mekalian.

"A month more of physical therapy and then I probably will be discharged," she said, beaming.

To donate to Mekalian, go to the Driving Mrs. M. Facebook page

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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