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Foster Dad Spends His Life Taking in Terminally Ill Kids

Photograph by Los Angeles Times

No one will fault you if you change the channel or mute the TV when that ASPCA-Sarah McLachlan commercial comes on with the sad, resigned eyes of those homeless dogs and cats that shatter your soul like Humpty Dumpty. Avoiding that type of hopeless suffering can be an understandable defense mechanism that keeps you from spiraling into a bottomless pit of despair and depression.

Mohamed Bzeek, though? He probably doesn't change the channel.

Where others see misery, he sees an opportunity. For love. The 62-year-old man, a devout Muslim originally from Libya, may be the closest thing to an angel on Earth that we'll ever know in our time. It's especially fitting, then, that he's been living in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, since 1978.

The Los Angeles Times recently profiled Bzeek because of his exceptional life's work—being a foster dad. Bzeek is not the only foster parent out there, but he is literally the only one around who takes in terminally ill children. For more than 20 years, he's taken "the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County’s sprawling foster care system," the newspaper reported. Some of the children he's taken in have died in his arms, and he's buried "about 10" of them.

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Bzeek's current foster child is a 6-year-old girl who is blind and deaf as a result of a rare brain defect that's also left her arms and legs paralyzed and causes her to suffer from seizures.

“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” Bzeek told the Times. “I’m always holding her, playing with her, touching her. … She has feelings. She has a soul. She’s a human being.”

The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services monitors 35,000 children of which 600 have severe medical needs. Bzeek has been a godsend to many of those children.

"He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it," one intake coordinator said.

Children with complex medical cases without a foster option go to medical facilities or sometimes with nurses-turned-foster parents, according to the story. The terminally ill children, though, have only one foster option, and it's Bzeek.

He's a single dad now—he was married for a time to another big-hearted foster parent, but she fell ill and the strain of her sickness contributed to their eventual divorce. She died shortly thereafter. It was from her that Bzeek learned how children so afflicted can be loved so deeply as she arranged for holiday toy drives and professional photo sessions for them, so they'd know on some level and in some sense how they were loved through and through.

And Bzeek continues doing just that, even though he knows the outcome is usually inevitable—and tragic. He's taken a child born with a spinal disorder due to being exposed in utero to toxic pesticides and who died before turning 1. He took a boy with short-gut syndrome who was hospitalized 167 times before dying at age 8. Despite not being able to eat, Bzeek would bring him to the table with an empty plate and spoon so he could experience what it felt like to spend mealtime with a family, including his now-19-year-old biological son, Adam, who has brittle bone disease and dwarfism. Bzeek describes Adam as a fighter, which is "the way God created him."

The kind of care these terminally ill foster children need—Bzeek takes kids with do-not-resuscitate orders—is a full-time job, even though Bzeek only received $1,700 a month per child for his efforts. He spends most of his time at the hospital or haggling with insurance companies, doctors' offices and social workers. Beyond that he spends it loving. He wants the children for whom he cares to feel warmth, affection and devotion. This includes his current foster daughter, who one of her doctors says is not always suffering—although only thanks to Bzeek.

"She has moments where she’s enjoying herself and she’s pretty content, and it’s all because of Mohamed.”

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Since the story came out, a GoFundMe page was started and has almost met the $100k goal.

It's not as if Bzeek is the only one aware these children exist, although it's evident he's among the scarce few willing to look them in the eye and do more than cry or change the channel. And perhaps it's knowing people like him exist that everyone else is able to sleep at night—because he barely does; his foster daughter sleeps sitting up to avoid choking, so he sleeps (or doesn't) next to her to ensure to her safety. Fostering her and the ones who came before her is meaningful to him, because he digs deep and sees past the diagnosis, disfigurement and prognosis.

“The key is, you have to love them like your own,” Bzeek said recently. “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.”

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