Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope
by Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak
Read: May 11-14, 2008
Challenge: Triple Eight – Bio/Autobio Category
First Line: Colleen Cerak woke up with a start to the sound of the phone ringing.
April 26, 2006. A date that the community of Taylor University will never forget. Returning from a banquet, a university bus carrying students and staff were hit by a truck. The accident scene was terribly violent and chaotic. Five people died. One survived. Laura Van Ryn’s family couldn’t believe that their little girl survived the terrible accident. Whitney Cerak’s family struggled to cope with the loss of their loved one. As Laura began the grueling healing process, her family was there to witness every moment. For five weeks after the accident she was showing amazing progress and the Van Ryn family thought that they were well on their way to returning to normalcy. Then it happened.
“Okay, Laura, I would like for you to write your name for me, the occupational therapist said. … W-H-I-T-N-E-Y…” (pg. 165-167)
The Van Ryn’s simply could not believe it. Had they been caring for Whitney Cerak for the past five weeks under the impression that it was their precious Laura?! Had the Cerak family actually buried their baby girl thinking it was Whitney?! Slowly, they began to remember strange things that “Laura” had recently been saying. Getting names wrong, not recognizing people. Just little things here and there. But it all made sense: “Laura” was actually Whitney!
Once the dental records did indeed confirm the fact that the girl who survived the horrific accident was actually Whitney Cerak, the Cerak family was contacted with amazing news.
“We have reason to believe that the girl identified as Laura Van Ryn is, in fact, your daughter Whitney Cerak.” (pg. 3)
Colleen Cerak could not believe her ears. Could they really have buried a girl other than Whitney? Could they have buried Laura instead?! No one in the family had the strength to view the body before burial … then Colleen began to think, five weeks!?!? How had five weeks gone by without the truth being obvious?! When the Cerak’s were reunited with their daughter, Whitney, everything was perfect.
But then, the Cerak’s wondered, how are the Van Ryn family coping?! They were the ones who, five weeks ago, felt amazingly blessed that their daughter survived a horrific accident in which she should have died. Now they were feeling the despair and heartbreak that the Cerak family had been experiencing for the past five weeks. And to make it worse, the Van Ryn’s were caring for a girl that they believed to be their daughter when in fact it was a stranger to them. How is something like that even possible?!
This book tells their story. It is heartbreaking. It is uplifting. It is amazing. I enjoyed it. Although I am not particularly religious, I understood that their story had to be told from that aspect since both of the families faith is a huge part of their life as well as this story. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It’s a must read.