Teen Hospital Mix-Up Victim Speaks for First Time

Weeks after family thought she had died, Abby Guerra says first words.

ByJON QUINONES, LEE FERRAN and KAITLYN FOLMER via via logo
July 25, 2010, 6:55 PM

Aug. 27, 2010 — -- Weeks ago, Abby Guerra's parents were told their daughter was dead in a tragic hospital mix-up, but the very much alive teen is speaking with her parents today and, five brain surgeries later, is slowly recovering from the car accident that nearly took her life.

"Hi Tia, hi Tia, hi Alma," Guerra said referring to her aunt, according to a cell phone recording her family made. The 19-year-old said "Hi" for the first time last week.

The words were the "greatest thing ever happen to my life," her father, Sergio Guerra, said.

They were also the latest high spot in an emotional roller coaster for her family that has lasted for weeks and began when officials told them the young woman had died.

Guerra was heading home to Phoenix, Ariz., July 18 with four friends from a trip to Disneyland when a tire blew out and the car flipped.

Police reported that Guerra's best friend, Marlena Cantu, was one of three survivors in critical condition. They broke the news to Guerra's mother, Maria, that her daughter had been thrown from the vehicle and killed.

For five days the family mourned and began planning Guerra's funeral.

"It would be different if I chose her wedding dress," Maria Guerra said in a "Good Morning America" report that aired today. "But I had to choose the dress that she's going to be cremated in. It's hard. I don't wish this for anybody in the world."

Her father had to sign papers for the funeral.

"That was, that was, horrible," he said. "Because it's hard to sign a paper to let go part of your life. And, Abby is my life -- is not part of my life -- Abby is my life."

Meanwhile, the Cantu family was holding vigil at the hospital over who they thought was their daughter.

But, on July 24, both families were given shocking news. There had been a mix-up. Cantu had perished in the crash and Guerra was alive and fighting for her life in the hospital. Her injuries were so severe that no one visiting Cantu, from friends to family, had noticed it was not her.

Guerra said that when she saw her daughter in bandages, she had no doubt it was her.

"I said, 'Finally, we find you. I mean, we can see you and you're alive,'" she said.

News of Mix-Up Gives Hope to One Family, Tragedy to Another

The joy the Guerra's felt was tempered by the pain of the Cantu family; their daughter suddenly taken from them with a few words from state officials.

"It's comforting to know that, you know, she's not suffering," Frank Cantu, Marlena's father, told reporters after he learned the truth.

Maria Guerra thanked the Cantu's for keeping watch over their daughter, even if they didn't know it was her.

"I'm really grateful for the Cantu family because they were at my daughter's side everyday, taking care of her," Guerra told "Good Morning America" last month. "I know they're going through a lot of pain because I went through it already.

"I just want them to be strong and really, give them all the support. ... They were taking care of my daughter."

Officials are reviewing the case because even though the women's injuries were extensive and they looked similar, there were several unique characteristics that could have tipped off hospital staff.

For instance, Cantu was two inches taller than Guerra, still had her wisdom teeth and had a scar on her abdomen from an appendectomy.

"You find yourself thinking: How can this be?" Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics told ABC News in July. "We have DNA testing. We have excellent dental records on many people. We have X-rays, all kinds of records kept on people. How can it be that we didn't identify someone a week later?"

After five brain surgeries, Guerra has continued to recover, one day at a time.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Abby's recovery from AbbysFightForLife.com.

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