Fourteen years ago, two women that were similar age, height, weight and build were riding in a van on their way to a church event when they had an accident. In trying to identify everyone in the van, Laura VanRyn’s and Whitneys Cerak’s ID’s were accidental mix up. Laura survived the crash but Whitney did not. The VanRyn family were with Laura every step of the way through 5+ weeks of healing, rehabilitation and therapy only to discover that the woman underneath all the swelling and bandages was Whitney. I know you are thinking, “How could this possibly happen?” Both families came together to write a book (Mistaken Identity) about the heart-wrenching roller coaster of emotions they experienced. This is one of my all-time favorite books. So, when I saw this headline, (Teens’ Parents Say Their Bodies Were Mixed-Up After Deadly Crash and 1 of Them Wrongly Had Organs Removed), I wondered, “How did a mix up like this happen again?”

According to the article, the medical examiner misidentified the bodies of Deleigha “Leigha” Gibson and Samara Cooks. Again, the two teenagers were killed in the same car accident, were close in age, height, weight and build. Then, things got even worse because Gibson was an organ donor but Cooks’ organs were removed for donation by mistake. The article also claims the funeral employees tried to fix the mistake without letting the families know and tried to keep the families from seeing their loved one’s bodies. I would think this would be considered criminal behavior.

There is no way to bring these teens back or to undo what has been done. I feel just awful for both families.

This article reminds me of a TV show that use to air called Three Rivers that brilliantly showed three perspectives (from the donor, recipient and doctor) during the process of organ donation and transplant in every episode.

This article also made me think about how many opportunities are there for two accident victims be misidentified if they can’t speak for themselves? (paramedic, fire, police, witnesses, ER, medical examiner, morgue, others?)


What if the surviving woman didn’t have a family? Would the mourning family take the survivor in as their own? How emotionally difficult would that be?


Back to the medical examiner and funeral home employees — How could they possibly fix this? What are the legal repercussions for both of them?


What if it were two men or two teen boys in the accident? How would that change things?


What if the story was written from the parent’s perspective?


From the first responder, medical examiner, survivor of the crash’s perspective? Let’s say they continued to visit the patient in the hospital during her recovery.

Who wants to talk more about how you can use this idea in your current or next story?

[Credit: flickr/Union College]

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