Even after getting her prostheses, however, there are many things Lodgen must help her do, from bathing to using a cell phone.

"You name it, I do it," Lodgen said cheerfully.

Mekalian must use a stylus for the cell phone, and usually gives out her land line phone number, because by the time she fumbles for the ringing cell phone and answers it, "It's stopped ringing."

She still has trouble holding anything with her hands, which have small motors that allow them to open and close and to rotate. And she has to avoid newsprint, tomato sauce and other things that can easily stain her arms.

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She sometimes doesn't know her own strength and once crunched the screen of her laptop computer picking it up. Drinking cups and handshakes are still a challenge.

"I'm the bionic woman," she said, referring to the hit TV show of the 1970s. "I don't want to hurt anybody."

Driving Mrs. M

When Casey heard about Mekalian's illness, "I was devastated. It kind of felt like, she's in the emergency room, she may never be coming back."

As Mekalian recovered, Casey was determined to help. At first, she and her parents, Trudy and Bev Brown, discussed getting Mekalian a guide dog.

But then they heard about http://www.givingforward.com, an online "crowd funding" site that specializes in raising money for people with medical problems.

And her father, Bev Brown pointed out that Mekalian had talked about wanting to drive and someday teach again.

"My dad said, 'She wants a car, not a guide dog,'" Casey explained.

Trudy Brown agreed, saying, "What (Mekalian) misses most is her independence. She can't just get up and go."

Casey liked the concept of "crowd funding," in which people pool money and resources on the Internet to fund projects and causes of their choosing.

"I thought that would be great for Mrs. Mekalian and we can make a lot of money," Casey said.

Casey and her classmates started a page on givingforward.com dedicated to raising money for Mekalian. Their goal in the three-month campaign, called "Driving Mrs. M," is to raise $52,000 to help their former teacher outfit her car with adaptive technology that will allow her to drive again, and to pay for driving lessons. The students also have a Facebook page.

The fundraising campaign is only about two weeks old, and combined with private donations, has already received $9,000 in pledges. Any additional money raised after outfitting Mekalian's yellow convertible — which could cost $10,000 to $20,0000 — and paying for lessons at $100 per lesson, will be used to help pay for medical bills not covered by insurance, Trudy Brown said.

The website address is http://www.givingforward.com/drvingmrsM. The page for Mekalian includes a video shot by family friend Connie Bottinelli, a professional filmmaker. Casey has a major speaking part in the video, in which she explains, "Our teacher, Mrs. Mekalian had a disease that caused her to lose both her arms and legs."

The students also made Mekalian a quilt with messages on each patch that say, "I love you ... I miss you ... Get well soon."

A teacher's dream

Trudy Brown, who works for a venture capital firm, said the fundraising effort is good for the students, because, "It will empower these kids to know that they can make a difference."

And Lodgen said the money will make a difference because the couple couldn't afford to retrofit the car on their own.

Bottinelli is making a difference too. She is bringing the story of Casey and her teacher to a wider audience, by making a documentary, Trudy Brown said.

Mekalian, a 20-year teacher at the Cathedral school, is now on long-term disability, but is beginning to dream about returning to the school to teach again, if she can figure out a way to physically grade students' homework.

"It's a goal," she said. "I'm not sure how realistic it is, but it's definitely a goal."

All the attention is "amazing, really," Mekalian said.

But she insisted, "The real story is not about me. It's about those 9- and 10-year-olds, who are spending all this energy to show their love for somebody."