One of the survivors of a terrible crash gave her family the surprise of a lifetime when they learned she was still alive.
On April 26, 2006, nine people from Taylor University were riding in a van that was struck by a semi-truck, and five passengers were killed. Brad Larson, Laurel Erb, Betsy Smith, Laura Van Ryn, and university staff member Monica Felver were killed in the crash.
However, for several weeks, it was believed Laura Van Ryn was alive and that Whitney Cerak was the one who had died in the accident.
At the time of the crash, an emergency responder accidentally clipped Van Ryn’s student ID onto Cerak. When Cerak’s family arrived at the hospital, they were too emotional to view the body of who they thought was Whitney, according to Today.
Days later, over 1,400 people attended Cerak’s funeral, not knowing Van Ryn was the one they were burying. All the while, the Van Ryn family, who started a blog to document the injured woman’s progress, was watching over comatose Cerak. After the crash, Cerak's face had been covered with bandages because of a head injury.
"We were told various different things," Susie Van Ryn, Laura’s mother, told Today. "'Don’t expect her to be who she was.'"
Lisa Van Ryn, Laura’s sister, was the first to suspect the injured woman was not her sister. During a therapy session five weeks after the crash, the woman wrote that her name was "Whitney," not "Laura." The misidentification was confirmed with dental records.
"There was a misidentification at the time of the accidents and it is uncanny the resemblance that these two young women share," Lisa wrote on the blog, according to WXIN.
Whitney’s family was informed at 2:00 a.m. Colleen and Carly Cerak, Whitney’s mother and sister, were the first to go to the rehabilitation center, Today noted.
"I could tell it was Whitney right away," Colleen said.
Carly took over the Van Ryn’s blog.
"Soon after we saw Whitney, our family met with the Van Ryns and our joy for ourselves was pushed aside by the pain we felt for them," she wrote, according to WXIN. "It is hard because our joy is their pain."
Whitney is now married with three children. Several family members of the victims spoke at a special prayer service at Taylor University marking the 10th anniversary of the crash.
"One thing they’ve taught us among many others is that life is short," Lisa said. "And you don’t know which day will be your last."