For five weeks, Laura Van Ryn’s family kept a bedside vigil around her hospital bed.
They were told their daughter had survived a horror crash on April 26, 2006 when a university van carrying her and eight other students and staff members collided head on with a tractor-trailer. Five people in the van died.
Laura, a 22-year-old from Michigan, suffered serious head trauma. She was wrapped up in bandages and was initially unable to communicate, but her family documented her recovery online for more than a month.
Then as she emerged from a coma, Laura began to say confusing things.
“Whitney,” she repeated, whenever asked a question or referred to as Laura. “It’s Whitney.”
Stephanie Peper, one of Laura's therapists, told The Oprah Winfrey Show that when she called her patient "Laura," she would respond with a whisper, saying "Whitney."
"The name 'Whitney' to me was a piece of the puzzle," Stephanie said. "But I didn't know it was the piece of the puzzle."
Laura had been identified at the crash scene by an emergency services officer. The crash victim had the blonde hair, height and weight that matched Laura Van Ryn's description.
But no one thought to check her dental records until she woke up and referred to herself as Whitney.
Whitney Cerek, 18, was identified as one of the students who had died in the car crash. Soon after, almost 1400 people attended her funeral.