Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tragic Mix Up

Whitney Cerak
Laura VanRyn

By now I'm sure you've heard of the tragic mix-up of two Taylor University students Whitney Cerak (18) and Laura VanRyn (22). On April 26th a van carrying Taylor University students was hit by a semi. Four Taylor University students and one employee were pronounced dead at the scene. Whitney Cerak was pronounced dead and the family buried her in their home town. Laura VanRyn was taken to the hospital in critical condition for weeks. Her family has been by her bedside for five weeks. As "Laura" began to speak a little and become a little more coherent the family noticed some things that didn't make sense. They alerted the medical staff where they compared dental records. To everyone's amazement Laura was not Laura, but Whitney.

For five weeks Laura's family has faithfully remained by what they thought was their daughter's bedside. Comforting her, praying for her and loving her like any family would. For five weeks Whitney's family has mourned their daughter's death... enduring memorial services and burial of what they thought was their daughter. For five weeks both families have endured so much pain. Both have felt fear, shock, denial, pain... but neither family lost their hope or faith.

Many criticize the coroner and medical staff for this terrible mistake. People say the coroner should have done more to identify the girls body. I do agree more should have been done to save both families from such horrible, unimaginable pain. But a part of me also believes the coroner was trying to shield the family from the pain of identifying the body. Those students were involved in a terrible crash with a semi. Bones were broken and shattered. Bodies were mangled and covered in blood. I'm sure the coroner was trying to save the family great pain and the terrible, unspeakable memory of the last image of "their" daughter.

The two girls were both blonde. The same height. Similar facial features. One was pronounced dead at the scene. One was rushed to the hospital where the family sat for five weeks believing that was their daughter. If Mom and Dad couldn't tell five weeks later that the girl lying in that hospital bed was not their daughter... who could? (And by no means do I question or belittle the VanRyn's. I can't even begin to imagine what they've endured!)

Dental records... a "simple" test. Hopefully a lesson learned. Dental records and DNA testing... Do you have a way for your family to identify you?

Whitney and Laura

Superimposed image of the two girls.
Their similarities are uncanny!

Laura's older sister, Lisa, started a blog about Laura's recuperation. It is so hard to read her words of Laura's recuperation and achievements now knowing the truth. But it is so powerful to hear her share their story. Their testimony is inspiring!

"The Cerak family came down from Gaylord and we had the privelege of meeting with them this morning. While we discussed some of the action steps that will need to take place over the next couple of days, we were also able to share with them some of the great things we have seen Whitney accomplish over the past month. It is a sorrow and a joy for us to learn of this turn of events. For us, we will mourn Laura's going home and will greatly miss her compassionate heart and sweetness while knowing that she is safe and with her King forever. We rejoice with the Ceraks, that they will have more time on this earth with their daughter, sister, and loved one."

My thoughts and prayers go out to both families. May they both be comforted by each other and the love and relationship they have in Jesus Christ.

Read Whitney Cerak's blog


Blogger Kim said...


I'd heard about this before, but not in such detail. It is unimaginable really...all I can think right now is how lucky Whitney was to have a family, though not her own, praying for her recovery.

thanks for sharing this story, Kimmy

12:09 PM  
Blogger Shelli said...

Kimmy, this was a beautiful post. It is really frightening to think about isn't it? Maybe it would be smart to save our DNA somewhere where it can be compared to something in incidences like that. I have in the past, when I have had a cold or something, told Jason in jest, "In case I disappear, there is plenty of my DNA in this wastebasket here." Now maybe it isn't so funny. How horrible for both families and also wonderful in the way that they have come together to be there for each other.

12:36 PM  
Blogger ...jus me said...

Oh Kimmy, What a story! I had never heard about this, when and where did it happen?
Wow, God really does work in mysterious ways! These families are forever united! What a shock it must have been for both families.
Glad to see you on twice in one week! Hope you are doing better every day! Still praying!

1:08 PM  
Anonymous dawn said...

This is such a sad story. I hope that the families can find peace

1:08 PM  
Blogger whispers of the morning said...

What a powerful story. I was going through and saw your name and thought I haven't been there in a while---moved use to be all about fun and life----but I'm so glad I came by. Thanks for sharing.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Bar Bar A said...

OH NO! I had not heard of this story. ITs so sad. I can't imagine how they all must have felt. Truly tragic. Thanks for sharing.

Hope you are feeling better, sweetie!

1:54 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

It still makes little sense to me. I really don't think- aside from hair color and height- that they resemble at all. I'm not sure how much of the facial features or other identifying marks were hidden with bandages, swollen, etc...but I really do think somebody close to them should have sensed something sooner.

2:46 PM  
Blogger FrogLegs said...

Wow. I didn't catch teh news this morning-- so I hadn't heard. My heart breaks for all those involved- especially the families.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Lynda said...

I posted about this on my blog too. It has been on my mind all day.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous txsoapmom43 said...

I read about this on Yahoo. What a sad thing for both families to have to go through. My heart goes out to them.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Libragirl said...

I heard about this this morning. I can't even imagine... Don't want to. I understand the coroner wanting to sheild the parents but he still should have done a test to id the body. The parents would not have had to see the body, blood, dna, dental would have done it. I am glad the family kept a blog of how the girl improved. It will help the family.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Bex said...

Wow, how sad. It's very strange because when my father in law who lived alone died, in his own house, by himself, the coroner would not even make a positive identification until they checked dental records and stuff. How hasty the coroner was in this case! I guess that's EXACTLY why they HAVE TO do that. We wondered about how silly it was for them not to believe it was him.


7:06 PM  
Blogger Marv said...

i had been so wrapped up with my own life that i didn't even know about this tragedy and the mixed up in identifying them!!! wow..that's scary!!!my prayers definitely go to them!!

7:29 PM  
Blogger Reverberate58 said...

I had not heard about this. I guess I live under a rock. I can't even begin to put myself in the place of either set of parents. How sad and tragic for all of them! Yes prayers will certainly go out to them all. Thanks for the share Kimmy. I hope you are feeling better! Sure is good to see you out once in a while!

7:34 PM  
Blogger LadyBugCrossing said...

It is amazing. The girls could have been twins. I feel for both families. You are so sweet to write such a beautiful post.

8:29 PM  
Blogger stacey said...

My mom just told me about this today. I think it is so sad. I can't imagine what either family must be going through, but it must have been a huge shock to Laura's family to discover that their daughter was really gone. At least Whitney's family got to experience a happier outcome. My heart goes out to them all.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Lena said...

I could not get this story out of my head all day yesterday. How could this happen?

Then when I looked at their photos and started thinking about it, I'm frankly surprised it doesn't happen more often!

My prayers and thoughts are with that poor family that lost their daughter after having such hope. What a tragedy.

But, what a MIRACLE for the Cerak family. This story proves that God does not pick and choose who dies. It is random and chance. It could have been either. I hope their faith in Him is strong enough to weather this.

1:32 AM  
Blogger Mindless Dribbler said...

Wow! I haven't heard about this...but man, they resemble each other very closely.

That's a rough situation.

12:05 PM  
Blogger akhil said...

It's a really sad story.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Oh I read about this and couldn't believe it! So sad for both families. Just tragic.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

i hadn't heard about this horrible event. how terrifying i agree. how sad and mind boggling...both families have suffered so much. I wonder if there is a bigger meaning to all this...the similarities are so huge...maybe their is a bigger lesson to see...

how are you? how is Jacob? good or better i hope dearly my sweet...take care and be happy...hugs.

2:05 AM  
Blogger wanderingscribe said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Janna said...

You might want to delete the "wanderingscribe" comment... it is trash.

2:49 PM  
Blogger drewmalins said...

This is a tragic story undoubtedly, and one which is both incomprehensible, and heart-rending. I hope both families are left by the media to recover from what has been a horrible, and slightly bizarre episode.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Ei said...

That guy Wobbling whatever has been pestering me as well
You can moderat your comments before they appear to make sure they dont show up..I just reported him for his blog site...why not do the same ?? maybe we can get him kicked off
I am an RN as well also on disability..small woeld
All the best

5:29 PM  
Blogger PresentStorm said...

I heard this story. It is so sad and tragic. In my opinon serious prayer for the families is definately an order. it does noone any good to play the blame game. i am sure all involved feel bad enough.

Great post. I found you on Blogmad!!

5:36 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

You said this wonderfully! I've been wanting to post about this, but couldn't even begin to get it all put down in a coherent manner. May God bless both families!

6:16 PM  
Anonymous mulligan said...

Something like this happened several years ago in Florida. Again it was two girls that were mixed up. Again it was weeks (I think 6) before someone realized what had happened.

What people don't realize is that when people have traumatic head injuries, their facial appearance can be altered. Sometimes permanently.

Coroners don't routinely perform DNA tests or check dental records. Especially not when they have a positive id. A positive identification comes from a family member or friend.

Everyone seems to think the coroner is to blame for the mix up. Several people had a part in this and none of them should be blamed. A friend or family member identified the body as Whitney's. Laura's family believed the girl was their daughter until she started to wake up.

This is a tragic, tragic mix-up that no one should be blamed for.

7:25 PM  
Blogger bobealia said...

Wow. I had not heard about this. I've been living under a rock for a couple of weeks. Amazing story.
I hope you have recovered fully from your surgery and that you are doing well now.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Janna said...

You know what else that "wanderingscribe" guy is doing? He is using our usernames (i.e., "drewmalins" & "mulligan") to post his trash on people's sites... so they think it's coming from us. He tried to leave two additional trash comments on my site... with those usernames, but I didn't buy it for a second. Classy huh? "WanderingScribe" is also a name he stole from another. Who knows who he really is... just an American-hating and Christian-hating creep who has too much time on his hands. (He is from the U.K.... it was in his e-mail address when he attempted to "respond" to what I had to say. It, of course, didn't hold any validity since every other word was a cuss word. Complete class-free jerk.)

10:46 PM  
Blogger Virenda said...

My husband emailed me the link and I couldn't believe something like this could happen and it's horrible on so many levels.

I don't know how you could move on from something like this. The world would change forever. I just, it's so sad and amazing.

More should have been done.

3:38 PM  
Blogger mwgrl5 said...

What is scary is this is the second time it has happened in Michigan alone in the last few years! It's also happened in Florida (as mentioned above) and Kentucky in recent years. I understand the psychology behind not "recognizing" the child you're praying is your's on the bed in front of you, and I understand the coroner's desire to protect the family from the agony of drawing out identifying the body, but a process needs to be in place to solidify a person's identity before being put to rest.

Floated here via BlogMad. Thanks for the well written posting!

9:11 PM  
Blogger karen! said...

I had heard about this story on the news, but just briefly. They do look similar, so I guess with whatever disfigurment there was, it was hard to tell the difference, and I am sure the family wanted to believe that it was their child, so they just did.
So, did you know both families?
I can't even imagine what they must be going through.
Hope you are feeling well.

10:20 AM  
Blogger ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

WOW...I didn't realize that Lisa had been keeping a blog until I read your post here. Absolutely heart-wrenching stuff.

Take care, and keep up the good blogging,

10:33 PM  
Blogger Wystful1 said...

Oh my this has me dumbfounded and speechless.

Yes!! DNA testing.


6:42 AM  

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