When she finally woke up from her coma, there was no way that she could have made sense of what was happening. She was clueless of what was going on.
And that wasn’t all. The family that had been waiting for her to wake up, standing day and night by her hospital bed, was in for a real surprise too. They had no clue of the news that would come with her awakening.
Sometimes, fate keeps unexpected twists and turns up its sleeve. This is a story of two families from the rural area of Michigan; it involves a bus accident, a girl in a coma and a shocking revelation.
Everything that the two families assumed and took for granted would get shaken by this sudden revelation. But it was a certain chain of events what led to that moment.
There are two sides to this story. On one side, we have the Ceraks, from GayLord, Michigan. It was Withney, her sister Carly, and her parents, Newell and Colleen.
“Whitney was just an amazing girl. I know I’m partial because I’m her mom, but she was just a lot of fun to be with. She made people feel special. She made us feel special,” according to Colleen. One can only imagine how hard it would be for her and the family to process what was about to happen to them.
On the other side, there was the Van Ryns, from Caledonia: Laura Van Ryn was the youngest of four children. Her parents were Don and Susie. Both Laura and Whitney attended to Taylor University, a small evangelical Christian school in Indiana.
Religion was very important for the Van Ryns and the Ceraks. The fathers from both families were heavily involved with their local churches. Without the help of their faith, both families would have found it impossible to go through these events. This is how it happened.
It was 8 p.m., and it had been a long day. Laura and Whitney had spent the evening at university’s Fort Wayne campus, working on the preparations of a banquet. Now, exhausted, they were sitting in the school bus, longing for their return home.
Their families were also waiting for them, with the dinner on the table and expecting for them to walk through the door at any minute. But neither Withney or Laura seemed to be coming back. Instead, both families received an unexpected phone call.
The bus that Laura and Whitney had taken to come back home had crashed in an accident. Of the nine students that were in the bus, only four had survived, but they were in critical condition.
The survivors had been taken to the closest hospital. As the Van Ryns and the Ceraks heard the terrible news, only one thing was on their minds: “Please, God, not my girl.”
Laura had survived, but she was in a coma. Quickly, the Van Ryns tried their best to compose themselves and rushed to the hospital where she was recovering. All the way, they prayed that everything would be alright.
But Whitney hadn’t survived the accident. After hanging up the phone, Newell and Colleen fell down crying. How could this have happened?
The Ceraks couldn’t even bring themselves to see Whitney’s body. This is how Carly, her sister, narrated their feelings at the moment.
“I was too emotional to see the body. So they just brought me back to a separate room and gave me her purse. Which was horrible, even the sight of it. It smelled like gasoline and it was just dirty. And everything inside of it was snapped. And they said that the purse was found next to the body. Just the way it smelled, the way it looked, that that’s what happened to Whitney. And it was really hard.”
Whitney was buried in a closed casket. And while the Ceraks mourned their loss, all the Van Ryns could do was give them their condolences, offer them their support and pray for Laura’s recovery. Laura’s mom, Susie, started a journal.
“When they brought us in to see you, honey, my heart was so full of love for you. To see my sweet sunshine girl hooked up to tubes was almost more than I could do. It amazes me that God has such strength when I am so weak. Only he could uphold me as he has,” said one of the entries. But God works in mysterious ways, and both families would soon learn that.
After some weeks, Laura finally started showing signs of coming back to consciousness. But when she woke up, she was bewildered by what was going on around her.
She was in a hospital bed. She couldn’t remember anything of what had happened prior to the accident. And around her there were some strangers, calling her by a name that she didn’t recognize and treating her as her daughter. But she didn’t have a clue of who those people were.
At some point of her recovery, while she was still struggling to speak, she uttered these words: “false parents”. Don and Susie were devastated by this. Was she blaming them for something? Or had she lost her memory?
The girl who had just waken up was even more confused. Who were those people? Where were her real parents? One of Laura’s sisters came close to her and asked her who her parents were. She replied “Newell and Colleen”. And that’s when everything started making sense.
There had been a few confusing episodes during the recovery. For example, the Van Ryns had noticed something: the girl in the hospital bed had a piercing in her navel. They never knew that detail about Laura. But at that moment, they just brushed it off as something she had hidden from them.
Also, after removing some of the bandages from her face, their parents had noticed that her teeth looked somehow different. They thought that was just an effect of the accident. But now they realized the truth.
That wasn’t Laura. And it seemed like it was Withney. The first thing they did was rushing to tell the Ceraks about it. And at first, Withney’s parents had a hard time believing the story.
“Whoever this is, I don’t know why they’re doing this, but this isn’t real. Like there’s no — I knew for sure there was no way that Whitney was alive,” Carly said, recounting their reactions. But then they arrived at the hospital and saw the girl that was laying in that bed.
It was Whitney! The daughter and her family instantly recognized each other and, teary-eyed, they embraced in a hug. The Ceraks couldn’t believe their fate. It seemed like a miracle.
Unfortunately, Laura turned out to be dead. She had been mistaken for Whitney and had been buried in the cemetery near the Cerak’s home. One can only imagine how heartbraking these news were for the Van Ryns. But how could this happen?
Later, it became public that the local authorities hadn’t employed any scientific method to identify the bodies of those deceased in the accident. It was a true scandal, and from then on, the state of Michigan took measures to make sure that this type of situation wouldn’t happen again.
Laura’s body was buried again, this time near the Van Ryn’s home. The local community would always remember that sweet, kind girl and the devotion and compassion of her parents, who took care of Withney during her recovery.