In 2006, Whitney Cerak was believed to have died in a car accident that killed five people in Indiana, the Associated Press reports. Her parents, Newell and Colleen, had a gravestone engraved with her name on it and a funeral, attended by over a thousand people, took place.
What no one realized at the time was that Whitney was alive -- fighting for her life in a hospital, with her fellow student Laura Van Ryn's parents by her side.
In the chaos of the crash and with the severity of their injuries, the two students -- both young and blonde -- had been misidentified, WISHTV-8 reports.
It took more than a month before the Van Ryns realized that the woman recovering slowly on the hospital bed was not their child. The revelation came as a terrible shock.
"Well, it was hard. but we knew where our daughter was…and we knew that Newell and Colleen needed to know where their daughter was," Laura's mother, Susie Van Ryn, told TODAY.
Whitney, now 25, has come a long way since her days of lying in a hospital bed injured beyond recognition. In 2010, Whitney got married to her soldier boyfriend, Matt Wheeler, in the same church where her funeral had been held.
"It was such an unbelievable moment for us, because we were at a moment in our life when we thought this would never be a possibility," said Newell, Whitney's father.
In another milestone, Whitney recently gave birth to her first child, a baby boy named Zachary Thomas, Daily Mail reports. Zachary's birth came just weeks before her husband's deployment to Afghanistan and just days before the sixth anniversary of the accident that killed Laura Van Ryn and four others.
Whitney said that the Van Ryns will always remain an integral part of her life.
"I love the Van Ryn family. They're so great," she told TODAY.