- Thursday, April 24, 2008
"We don't know. That's why we have to go to GR," Colleen said. Sandra peppered her with questions, but all Colleen could say in response was, "I've already told you everything I know."
Colleen, Carly, and Sandra climbed in Jim's car and drove toward Grand Rapids, four hours away. No one said much of anything for a very long time. Carly sat in the backseat next to Sandra, still fuming. Finally she said, "What will the Van Ryns think when we come barging into Laura's room?"
"They aren't there," Colleen said. "I was told they left the hospital some time on Tuesday after the hospital confirmed the girl in the room wasn't Laura."
"What?" Carly's head spun. "None of this makes any sense. There's no way they could have gone this long thinking it was Laura if it wasn't her. No way." No one argued her point.
Silence filled the car for the next hour. By this time Carly had cooled off. Although she didn't want to talk about it, she'd spent that hour considering the news that the Van Ryns had ended their constant vigil. They haven't left Laura's side for five weeks. Why would they leave now? What if...? "Did they tell you why the Van Ryns left?" Carly asked, as if the earlier conversation had never ended.
"All they told me was the hospital now knows the girl in the room isn't Laura," Colleen said. "The Van Ryns left the hospital after dental records confirmed this fact. If it was Laura, they would still be there."
"That still doesn't mean that it's Whitney," Carly protested. "I can't believe it's not Laura, but if it isn't, it could be some random girl they put in her room by mistake." Even as she said the words, she realized how foolish they sounded. Carly didn't want to admit it, but she, too, had started to believe Whitney might be alive.
Colleen told the girls, "You know if Whitney is alive, Hollywood will have to make this into a movie." Everyone laughed, even Carly.
"And, if they do, Jennifer Lopez will have to play Sandra," Colleen joked. "After all, they're both Puerto Rican."
"I think Robert Redford will have to be Newell," Colleen said.
"Watch it, Mom. We know how you feel about Robert Redford," Carly joked.
"Stop it," Colleen laughed. "They'd have to have Kate Hudson play Whitney. I've always thought they kind of looked alike," Colleen said. "And Mel Gibson for you, Jim." Everyone roared with laughter when she said that.
Colleen, Carly, Sandra, and Jim pulled into the parking lot of Spectrum Health Continuing Care Hospital around seven in the morning. Two hospital employees met them and tried to explain the situation and then asked if the Ceraks had any questions. They had only one: Where is she? As the women led them down the hall, Carly began to shake uncontrollably. She could hardly breathe. Colleen led the way, with Carly and Sandra hanging on behind. Jim respectfully lagged back several steps.
When they reached the room with the nameplate "Laura Van Ryn," Colleen took a deep breath and pushed the door open slightly. Although the lights in the room were dim, there was no mistaking the girl lying on the hospital bed. Colleen let out a sigh of relief and whispered. "It's Whitney."
Carly lunged past her mother and rushed to her sister, with Sandra and Colleen close behind. The three of them started hugging Whitney and burst into tears. It really was her. Her blonde hair, her blue eyes, her nose, and the shape of her mouth; beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was Whitney!
Whitney slowly opened her eyes, wide and expressionless. Although her neck brace restricted her movement, she nodded her head yes over and over as her sister and mother repeated her name. Carly fell to the floor sobbing, her body unable to contain her overwhelming joy. The women who had escorted the Ceraks to Whitney's room rushed in and tried to quiet the three of them down. "She can't handle this much stimulation," they said.
"But my sister is alive. My sister is alive!" Carly said and the celebration continued.
Colleen pulled out her cell phone. She could barely see the numbers due to the tears in her eyes. "Newell," she said, "I'm standing here and it's Whitney. It really is Whitney."
Newell could not believe what he was hearing. He thought he must be dreaming. "Hang up the phone and call me right back," he said, just to make sure this was real. Immediately his cell phone rang again. "I'm standing here and she's as beautiful as ever," Colleen said. Newell fell to his knees, crying like a baby.
"What does she look like?" he asked. "Is anything wrong with her?"
"No." Colleen replied. "There's not a mark on her face. It's really her."
Then Newell heard a sound he thought he would never hear again. Through the phone he heard the daughter he believed he'd said good-bye to for the final time five weeks earlier say in almost a whisper, "I love you, Dad."
Taken from Mistaken Identity © 2008 Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak. Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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