Philly woman’s water breaks in Vasquez Rocks, premature baby Rocky shows resilience

Philadelphia resident Claire Lutz holds, for the first time, her baby, Rocky, who was three days old, after her water broke last November during a visit to Vasquez Rocks while only 24 weeks pregnant. Photo courtesy of Claire Lutz

Back in early November, Claire Lutz was out among Vasquez Rocks with her husband and some friends, 24 weeks pregnant, when her water broke. She was 2,500-plus miles from home. 

The 36-year-old Philadelphia woman had come to California with her husband on business. During the trip, a friend of theirs from Glendale suggested a recreational visit to Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce. Their friend, an avid hiker, thought the park would be a beautiful place to check out, it being a popular film and television shooting location for its unique rock formations. 

Never thinking she’d have to deliver her baby until months later when she was at home, which was only 20 minutes from where she planned to go to give birth to her child, the unthinkable became inevitable. 

“I’d stayed in the parking lot, and my husband and our friends went to actually look at the rocks — because I didn’t really want to do anything that was too strenuous,” Lutz told The Signal during a recent phone call from her home in Philadelphia. “We didn’t have any reason to be concerned at that point. And you know, what we heard from the doctors was that there’s no way we could have known that this particular complication would have happened.” 

Vasquez Rocks, in a 2018 Signal file photo, was Philadelphia resident Claire Lutz’s location when her water broke last November while only 24 weeks pregnant.

Lutz’s water broke right there in the parking lot of her very rocky surroundings. Luckily her husband and friends were nearby to quickly respond. 

Lutz said that one of their friends jumped on a map app on his phone and searched for the nearest hospital. Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital came up, and the group was on its way. 

“We were kind of up in the mountains,” Lutz said. “It was the fastest way to get there, rather than waiting for an ambulance.” 

A little over 30 minutes later, Lutz checked into the emergency room, and seven days after that, on Nov. 14, Lutz and her husband welcomed a baby boy into the world. The couple named their child Rocky after the rocky Vasquez Rocks where it all began — not, Lutz insisted, after their own Philadelphia fictional Rocky Balboa from the 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie “Rocky,” and not after the rocky delivery.  

Their baby was just 1 pound, 14 ounces.  

Baby Rocky keeps warm and isolated from germs in his isolette last November, three days after an emergency C-section at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Photo courtesy of Claire Lutz

“I was in the hospital for a week,” Lutz said, “which really helped a lot because I was able to get steroids and some other medications to kind of help prepare baby for potential early delivery. They didn’t know exactly when that would happen. They were hoping to keep me pregnant as long as possible.”  

But Rocky was in a breach position. The doctor called for an emergency C-section. 

“Babies born at 24 weeks — a lot of them don’t survive or they have major, major complications,” said Emily Lloyd, a registered nurse in the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Lloyd worked with Rocky and spoke with The Signal about how the newborn did in those early stages of his stay in the NICU. “This little guy got through his whole hospital course. He did so amazing. Such a tiny percentage of babies do that well.” 

Had the trip gone as originally planned, Lutz and her husband wouldn’t have had these difficulties to consider. They would’ve left for home on Nov. 10 — three days after the emergency. And they would’ve been better prepared to have the baby about three months later. They’d planned on going to a birth center just outside of Philadelphia where Lutz’s husband had been born. 

“He (Lutz’s husband) was delivered at that birth center,” Lutz said. “At the time, he was the biggest baby ever born there. He was 12 pounds when he was born. He was a record-setting baby.” 

Asked if she was disappointed that Rocky was born elsewhere, Lutz said, “I think when you’re pregnant, a lot of the pregnancy is sort of preparing for birth and envisioning how you want it to be. And so, it’s hard when things go a different direction. But I try to always keep in mind that, ultimately, there are a lot of things you don’t have control over.” 

Throughout the course of the next few months while Henry Mayo cared for Rocky, Lutz and her husband rented a room in a house across the street from the hospital. They were able to walk over and visit the baby once or twice a day. 

“We got to spend time with Rocky, do skin-to-skin contact, and just keep track of his progress,” Lutz said. “We knew he would probably be there at least until his due date — we knew we were looking at about three months. And there were a lot of ups and downs. Mostly it was wanting him to grow, to gain weight, for his lungs to develop — that’s really the biggest thing for him.”  

She added, “Sometimes it felt like it was two steps forward, one step back, but he had a really great medical team there every step of the way.” 

Eventually Rocky was discharged from Henry Mayo on March 1, but getting back home to Philadelphia was yet another hurdle the family would have to overcome. 

“Once he was ready to go home,” Lloyd said, “he was still needing a small amount of oxygen, but it was like, they (the family) couldn’t find an agency locally that would do it for them.” 

She added that case managers, charge nurses, a social worker, doctors and the NICU director were all working hard to find a solution. 

Lutz said, “Because our insurance company is based in Pennsylvania, they had difficulty finding a medical device provider in California that would let us travel with the equipment.”  

And so, the family ended up paying out of pocket to rent the oxygen equipment, what Lutz called a “concentrator,” and taking a commercial flight home. Still, the situation would become more and more tense. 

“The whole experience was incredibly stressful — one of the most stressful days of my life,” Lutz said. “We went directly from the hospital to the airport, so it was the first time Rocky had been outside the NICU. We booked first-class tickets, thinking it would be helpful to have some extra legroom for the oxygen concentrator, which was about the size of a small rolling suitcase.” 

Then their flight was cancelled and rebooked for the following morning.  

“We didn’t want to wait that long,” Lutz said. “We were traveling with a cooler of frozen breast milk to bring home, and we wanted to minimize the time in the airport to keep Rocky from being exposed to too many germs.” 

The family was able to secure an earlier red-eye flight. However, due to the last-minute booking, they could not get those first-class seating arrangements they really wanted, nor were they able to get seats together.  

“Fortunately,” Lutz said, “a kind stranger switched seats with Alex (Lutz’s husband) so that we could sit together. The flight was full, so we just stayed in our seats the entire time.” 

Making matters worse, Lutz said she and her husband feared the oxygen machine would run out of battery power. And while they had extra batteries, they weren’t lasting as long as they were told they would hold out.  

“The batteries we were given were supposed to last six hours, and they lasted like four,” she said. “We had two sets, so we weren’t sure. We were on the very end of the batteries during the flight. We weren’t sure if they were going to last the whole time.” 

Luckily, they just made it home to Philadelphia with battery power to spare. Rocky, for the most part, slept through the whole flight, Lutz said, and soon after, the family would be meeting with their own doctors to care for Rocky and track his development. 

In an early-June email to Henry Mayo, Lutz updated those staff members who had provided care: “Rocky has been adjusting and doing really well. All of his doctors have been so impressed with his status. One even asked us, ‘Do they do things differently in California?’ He was cleared for ROP (retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease sometimes found in premature babies) and got a clean bill of health from the cardiologist as well, so we are now just working on weaning his oxygen. If that continues to go well, he should be off in two to three weeks.” 

Rocky, she told The Signal at the end of June, is now almost 15 pounds, he’s smiling and laughing, and he’s almost rolling over on his own.  

“He’s a very happy, social baby,” Lutz said, adding that she, too, is healthy and also doing well. 

Claire Lutz and her husband, Alex Knight, brought baby Rocky home to Philadelphia on March 2 after having spent about four months in Santa Clarita following an emergency C-section at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Photo courtesy of Claire Lutz

“I feel like I learned that I have always been so astonished by how resilient and strong Rocky has been,” Lutz said.  

And while she says that Rocky is most definitely not named after Rocky Balboa, the boxer who is resilient in his own way, Lutz couldn’t deny the parallels, saying her baby’s drive and perseverance were ever so empowering. 

One might say that she and her husband also showed vigor and spirit themselves. Lutz gives the credit to their baby. 

“When things were difficult for us, his resilience was a real source of strength and inspiration,” she said. “Like, wow, he’s only a few months old — or at the time he was only a few days old, or a few weeks old — and he had gone through so much already. Just seeing him still thriving and doing his best is really inspiring.” 

Living over 2,500 miles away, Vasquez Rocks is quite the distance from Philadelphia. Lutz, however, said, “I think we’ll want to bring Rocky back.” Back to where it all began. 

Baby Rocky and his dad, Alex Knight, celebrate their first Father’s Day together. Photo courtesy of Claire Lutz

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