Casey Brown and Anne Mekalian

Casey Brown was a third grader at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen School when her teacher, Anne Mekalian, was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Mekalian had her arms and legs amputated and hopes to have her car retrofitted so she can drive again. Brown started a crowd funding initiative to raise money for Mekalian's car and ongoing treatment through (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / May 16, 2012)

Casey Brown's handshake was warm, but shy, as if the 10-year-old Lake Evesham girl was surprised anyone would want to shake her hand.

Anne Mekalian's handshake was more confident, but understandably colder, more of a spongy fist bump with the palm open, so that she wouldn't risk crushing the reporter's hand with seven pounds of motorized pressure.

Both of Mekalian's arms are prosthetic, and both legs too. At that, the former Cathedral of Mary Our Queen School teacher, 66, feels lucky to be alive.

And Casey, Mekalian's former student, feels fortunate to be leading an online fundraising campaign that has already raised more than $9,000 to help better the life of a beloved teacher.

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They sat for an interview May 11 at Casey's family's house on Lake Avenue. Mekalian recounted how she contracted what she initially thought was "teacher's laryngitis" in March 2011.

Casey recalled how most of the 23 former third-graders in her class at Cathedral came together to organize a benefit that has drawn donations from as far away as France.

And Casey's mother, Trudy Brown said a close family friend, who is a filmmaker, is making a feature-length documentary about Casey and Mekalian.

Black hands

Mekalian was hospitalized and 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.

"They looked mummified," recalled her fiancé, Pete Lodgen, a retired Maryland Transportation Authority police officer.

Mekalian, then a longtime Towson resident, spent six weeks fighting for her life at St. Joseph's Hospital, half of that time in an induced coma. At one point, her heart stopped.

Mekalian's family, friends, colleagues and students were caught completely off guard.

"I was just hoping she'd stay alive," said Lodgen, 65.

The news filtered down to Mekalian's third-graders at the Cathedral school in Homeland.

"We were terrified," Casey said.

Pumped full of drugs, Mekalian barely recalls signing consent forms for doctors to amputate her arms and legs. She said her clearest memory is of the medical team asking if she wanted both arms amputated at the same time.

After rehabbing at Kernan Hospital, Mekalian moved in with Lodgen in Harford County. She's had her prosthetic limbs about 10 months and even participated in a 5k race sponsored by Kernan. She said she can feed herself and brush her teeth.

"I don't think about the walking anymore," she said.

She even drove 35 miles per hour on a four-lane road recently with the help of a driving instructor in a specially equipped car.