Woman mistaken as dead 6 years ago now married; husband to be deployed to Afghanistan

Ron Recinto
The Lookout

Whitney Cerak lives a pretty normal life nowadays. Which seems just fine with her.

Six years after being mistaken for dead, Cerak is now a wife and mother. In fact, she married her soldier boyfriend, Matt Wheeler, in the same church where her family had held her funeral.

When Matt Lauer of "Today" asked her to reflect for a piece about her life, Cerak said. "I don't know where to start."

Things have changed since that dramatic day in 2006. Cerak was among a group of Taylor University students in a van that collided with a truck in Indiana. Five people were killed. Cerak, heavily bandaged and unresponsive, was misidentified as classmate Laura Van Ryn, who had a similar appearance and died in the crash.

For five weeks, Van Ryn's parents sat by the hospital bed of the young lady they assumed was their daughter. Cerak's family held a funeral for Whitney that was attended by more than 1,000 people.

The truth came a terrible shock for the Van Ryns.

"Well, it was hard. but we knew where our daughter was…and we knew that (Whitney's parents) needed to know where their daughter was," Laura's mother, Susie Van Ryn, told "Today."

The Ceraks and and Van Ryns remain friends.  "I love the Van Ryn family. They're so great," Whitney said in the piece.

Now Whitney and Matt have started a family of their own, recently welcoming their first child, a son, Zachary Thomas, into the world, according to the Daily Mail.

The next hurdle for Whitney is dealing with the upcoming departure of Matt, who is being deployed to Afghanistan by the Army.

"This will be like a whole different level of hard," she said in the "Today" story.