Image: Whitney Cerak, Laura VanRyn
Taylor University via AP file
Whitney Cerak, left, was confused with Laura VanRyn by hospital officials, and  Cerak's family was told she was dead.
updated 8/14/2006 12:05:22 PM ET 2006-08-14T16:05:22

It was “strange to find out my family and friends had a funeral for me,” says Whitney Cerak, the young woman who was wrongly identified as a dead college classmate after a van crash.

Writing on her family’s online journal for the first time, Cerak described her experiences after reawakening from a near-comatose state following the crash and then learning about the mix-up.

“It is so hard to believe that this story is all over the news and so many people know about me,” Cerak wrote. “Even though I don’t know many of you who are reading what I am writing about my life, I am so thankful to have had your prayers.”

Cerak, 19, of Gaylord, was with eight students and staff from Indiana’s Taylor University when their school van collided with a tractor-trailer on April 26. Five people died in the crash, including Laura VanRyn, a 22-year-old Taylor senior.

VanRyn’s mother and father mistakenly were told she was alive, while Cerak’s parents were told their daughter was dead. VanRyn’s family and boyfriend kept vigil at the badly injured Cerak’s bedside for five weeks before realizing the error.

Cerak wrote in the journal posting Saturday that she remembers her life before the crash but doesn’t recall anything during the five weeks that followed it.

“Some people came to visit me at the hospital, and a few of those were the VanRyns,” Cerak wrote. “I know they were with me constantly during the first five weeks, but their visit was all I can remember.

“They are very nice people, and it was funny to hear how I acted when I first came out of my coma. When I found out that five other people were killed in the accident I was really sad.”

Cerak, now home after spending months recovering at a center in the Grand Rapids area, said she is excited about resuming her education at Taylor in a few weeks and living a normal life again.

“I AM FINALLY HOME,” she wrote at the end of the posting, signed, “Whitney.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Survivor in mistaken ID case back home


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