Mohamed Bzeek should be a tragic figure.
The 62-year-old Libyan immigrant has lived to attend the funerals of 10 foster children. He has held them in his arms while they died. Currently, he is caring for a 6-year-old with a profound brain disorder that leaves her blind, deaf, paralyzed, and riddled with seizures. Doctors say this child doesn’t have much time left.
Still, Bzeek is not a tragic figure. While he has done more than his share of grieving, he doesn’t see these losses as tragedies. Things are as God wills them to be, Bzeek, a practicing Muslim, says.
“The key is, you have to love them like your own,” he told the “Los Angeles Times.” “I know they are sick. I know they are going to die. I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God.”
No, Bzeek is no tragic figure. He’s just an extraordinarily good human being.
Melissa Testerman is an intake coordinator at the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services.
When she encounters a child who qualifies for hospice care, she knows who to call.
“There’s only one name we think of,” Testerman told the “Los Angeles Times,” referring to Bzeek. “He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.”
Despite the fact that the DCFS must find homes for about 600 severely ill children throughout the year, few foster parents can handle the pain of losing a child. There are rarely any takers. In fact, Bzeek is the only qualified foster father in the system who specializes in caring for children with terminal diagnoses.
He didn’t always to the job alone. His wife introduced him to the joys of fostering. Bzeek’s wife, Dawn, died of her own illness in 2014. He continued her work on his own.
Years after Bzeek moved to the United States to attend college, he met the woman who would become his wife.
Dawn was already a foster parent. She had fond memories of her grandparents fostering children, giving them a loving home when they needed it most. Beginning in the early 1980s, Dawn followed in their footsteps.
After she and Bzeek married, they began fostering together, providing children with both a mother and a father. In 1991, they cared for a baby who had a serious spinal disorder. The little girl died on July 4 of that year. She wasn’t even a year old yet.
“This one hurt me so badly when she died,” Bzeek said nearly 30 years later. In his home, he still keeps a photograph of that child, in a halo of flowers and a dress of white lace, lying in her tiny coffin.
But Bzeek and his wife knew that they were doing important work. No one else would take in terminally ill children. They had found their calling.
By the middle of the 1990s, the Bzeeks focused their fostering efforts on children who’s lives would end shortly after they began. When doctors find that they can’t do any more to prolong a patient’s life, those patients often take on a “do-not-resuscitate” order. If the patient’s heart stops, medical providers won’t try to bring them back.
The Bzeeks began to only foster children who carried do-not-resuscitate orders. They did it simply because no one else would.
Bzeek isn’t just a foster father. He also has a biological son of his own.
Adam was born in 1997. He had dwarfism and brittle bone disease. Even changing his diaper could end in a trip to the hospital, where he would be treated for a broken bone.
Today, Adam is 19. He attends Citrus College, where he studies computer science. He gets around on an electric wheelchair, and all of his classmates are much taller than he is. “But he’s a fighter,” Bzeek said.
Adam is as much a part of his foster siblings’ short lives as his dad.
“I love my sister,” Adam said, referring to the child Bzeek is currently fostering. “Nobody should have to go through so much pain.”
When Bzeek takes the little girl for her frequent hospital visits, she sits upright in a wheelchair, with an IV pole trailing behind her to keep her fed. Her head rests on a stitched pillow.
“Dad is like duct tape holding our home together,” the pillow says.
The little girl has to sleep sitting up. Bzeek sleeps alongside her, keeping her company. She’s nonverbal, but Bzeek understands her perfectly.
“She has feelings,” he said. “She has a soul. She’s a human being.”