When a terrible storm hit Erika Poremski’s town on August 14, she did not panic. Not even when a huge bolt of lightening hit the transformer behind the single mom’s Baltimore home, causing a power outage. Instead, the 29-year-old nursing student focused on staying calm and caring for her then 8-month old daughter, Viviana.
With no flashlights in the home that was originally her great-grandmother’s, Erika lit a candle in the living room. Having just put Viviana to sleep upstairs, Erika tried calling the electrical company. When her phone died mid-call, she decided to charge it in her car. While outside waiting for her phone to turn on, she suddenly felt a “weird feeling.” When she turned around, she was shocked to see the bright glow of flames lighting up the living room window.
Sprinting into the house, Erika found the couch and carpet completely in flames. “I was hit with so much smoke,” she describes. “I took in so much not knowing how bad it was that fast. I ran back out for air then ran back in. I was trying to get upstairs [and] I started instantly burning. My hair started burning off — I grabbed the rail and peeled off all my skin on my hand. [My] face started burning. I was trying to fight the fire and make it up the stairs.”
Not being able to breathe through the smoke and flames, Erika ran outside again, screaming for help and banging as loud as she could on the neighbor’s house. While she waited in agony for the firefighters and ambulances to arrive, Erika had no idea what was happening in the upstairs bedroom where she had left her daughter sleeping.
There, the family dog, Polo, was sacrificing everything to protect Viviana.
As the flames engulfed them, Polo didn’t leave little Viviana’s side. He guarded the baby with his own body, protecting her entire left side. By the time emergency responders were able to pull Viviana and Polo from the house, the baby had suffered burns on 20 percent of her body — but her left side remained perfectly intact, protected by the sacrifice of a dog who laid down his own life for her.
“Polo was already gone when they brought Viv out,” Erika explains. “He was about to be six, he was my first baby. I miss him so much still.”
The investigators later concluded that the lit candle from the living fell onto the dog’s bed, either from the dog knocking it over or a gust of wind from the door Erika had used to go out to the car. And although the emergency team was able to rescue Viviana, the damage was too great for her little body. She suffered severe burns and brain swelling and is now in a coma. Doctors have told Erika that they think the extent of brain damage is too much.
Viviana — now referred to as “The Sleeping Beauty” — is not expected to wake up.
But Erika has refused to give up hope. The doctors initially told her that Viviana would never survive a surgery, but she has now gone through four skin graft surgeries on her right arm, leg, and cheek. Because she is in a coma, she also has a tracheostomy to help her breathe and a G-tube to provide her with nourishment.
While her Sleeping Beauty sleeps, Erika was contacted by Stephanie Smith of Lenses for Love, a photographer who donates photo sessions to families with special needs and health challenges. Smith had heard what had happened and offered to help in any way she could. Erika decided to accept Smith’s donated photos for one heartbreaking reason.
“I don’t know day-to-day what could happen to Viv,” she explains sadly. “I just wanted memories to hold onto whether she makes it out and we look back or not. I hold onto [the pictures] to that know her and I both need strength through all of this.”
Since Smith released the photos, Erika has received both love and support as well as, unfortunately, criticism for what others perceive as mistakes made on her part. Already struggling with her daughter’s condition as well as a court battle with Viviana’s father (he wants to take out her feeding tube and let their daughter pass) Erika wishes that the parents judging her would instead direct their attention to their own loved ones.
“I just wanna say to other moms that don’t think this could happen to them — I was that mom, too,” she says. “Viv was never [previously] out of my sight but it did [happen]. So cherish ones you love because at any moment it could be gone and you can lose literally everything like I did in matter of 15 minutes …”
As she continues by her daughter’s side in the hospital, Erika is taking a cue from her baby girl, who she says is a fighter. “She’s fighting so hard, so am I,” she describes. “I am standing by her. These pictures are true to my heart and show my love for my child that I’ll never leave her side. Until someone knows this feeling they shouldn’t comment unless it’s about prayers. Because it’s all I need. A miracle.”
If you would like to make a donation towards Viviana’s medical care, you can contribute through her GoFundMe page.