Mistaken Identity – by Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak With Mark Tabb
“Meet Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak: one buried under the wrong name, one in a coma and being cared for by the wrong family.
Five lives were lost in a tragic accident involving a Taylor University van, and one student, severely injured and comatose, was rushed to the hospital.
Five funerals were held. Families, faculty, students, and communities grieved their losses and joined in prayer and hope as the one young woman, Laura Van Ryn, fought for her life in a hospital bed. The national news spread the story, and people everywhere shared the grief and the hope.
Five weeks passed for the Cerak family. Believing they had buried their daughter, the Ceraks clung to their faith and worshipped God through their grief, learning to look forward with hope to an eternal reunion with their lovely daughter Whitney.
Five weeks passed for the Van Ryns. Keeping a constant bedside vigil over their precious daughter Laura, they sat and prayed and hoped. Confronted with tubes and surgeries, vital signs and healing signs, they rejoiced at each tiny advance toward recovery. Their friends and church and family members, along with a steady stream of students, celebrated with them each sign of Laura’s healing.
And then the shock!
“Okay, Laura, I would like you to write your name for me,” the occupational therapist said.
W-H-I-T-N-E-Y.”A grief reversed. A hope deferred. The stunning true story of two families trading places from graveside to bedside. (from book cover)
I recall hearing about this story when it happened back in 2006. I remember thinking how horrible it must have been to be the family who thought their daughter was alive, only to find out she had been buried. By another family. I still feel that way, of course, but this book has shown how amazing these two families are. I read this book because I remembered hearing about it when it happened. I started it during the time I was having a difficult time focusing on reading and books, and I found I had a hard time putting it down. It is an incredible story and, as I said, both of these families are amazing. They are both very religious families, and while I do not share their faith in God and religion, I was amazed at the sense of community I felt while reading this book. All involved turned to people of their faith, their families, and God for guidance and support to get them through this tragedy they found themselves in. I was blown away by the strength they all had, as well as how understanding and accepting they all were. When the Van Ryns discovered their daughter, Laura, had in fact died the night of the accident, they were not angry that they had been taking care of a stranger, but happy they were there to help her through such a difficult time. And when the Ceraks found out that their daughter, Whitney, was the girl in the hospital, they truly felt for the Van Ryns because they knew how it felt to lose a child.
I think this story is one of hope, community, and the miracles of life. After I finished reading Mistaken Identity, I sat and stared at the book for a while, just trying to process everything I had learned. It’s hard not to reflect on your own life after reading such a story, and you certainly appreciate the people you have in your life. If you have an interest in non-fiction books, I suggest you read this book. Even if you don’t, it is a very interesting read. I give this book a 3.5/5.