Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mind-Boggling Case Of Mistaken Identities

I simply cannot get my mind wrapped around this one: A family cared for a badly injured, hospitalized young woman for five weeks before realizing that she was not their daughter. Meanwhile, another family buried a woman they thought was their daughter and attempted to get on with life following the devasting loss.

The VanRyn family learned Wednesday that the patient they cared for and prayed for the past five weeks is not their Laura.

Laura, it turns out, is dead.

The young woman in the hospital bed, who suffered head injuries in an April 26 highway accident that killed five people, is Whitney Cerak.

Whitney's family thought they buried her weeks ago.

"We have some hard news to share with you today," the VanRyn family said in a blog at, where it had been posting updates.

"Our hearts are aching as we have learned that the young woman we have been taking care of over the past five weeks has not been our dear Laura, but instead a fellow Taylor (University) student of hers, Whitney Cerak."

Cerak, now 19, of Gaylord, Mich., is a freshman at the Upland, Ind., university, while VanRyn, 22, of Caledonia, Mich., was a senior.

Cerak is the one recovering at the rehabilitation facility in Grand Rapids, Mich., after a tractor-trailer struck the van she and VanRyn were riding in.

The VanRyn family said a "misidentification" was made at the time of the accident near Marion, Ind., and that the women shared an "uncanny" resemblance.

Follow the link to see pictures of the two young women.

Granted, the county coroner's office involved in the case of the woman who was buried appears to not have been as thorough as they might have been. In addition, though neither article specifies, one has to assume that the head and facial injuries that both women suffered must have been profound.

But still. Still!

Pictures can be so misleading (as is apparent from the second linked article). And perhaps it's not fair to look at the two published headshots and note the differences as well as the similarities, which one would think would be carried out throughout their body structures.

Wouldn't you think that parents would be pretty aware of all the particularities of their children's bodies? I'm having a very tough time imagining that I wouldn't recognize my son as my own--or someone's else's as not--in the situation as described. It's not just his face that is so familiar to me, after all, but his body generally, the odd freckle, the planes of his rib cage, and, above all, his hands and feet, just like his father's in miniature. (That's not just having to do with my son: I tend to notice hands, especially, and feet in general. Ears as well, now that I think about it.) Surely this is not unusual?

My intention is not to judge these poor parents--how utterly awful the situation is for them. But what an unsettling story!--one of the oddest, in its particular way, that I've ever read.

Can you imagine? I sure can't.

Hat tip.