Mohamed Bzeek, a 62-year-old Muslim immigrant in California, has spent the past two decades caring for terminally ill foster children. These children are neglected by the foster care system, frequently spending the whole of their short lives in state-run hospitals, and rarely get to experience love, hope, and laughter.
About 600 of the 35,000 children monitored by the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services fall under the care of the department’s Medical Case Management Services, which serves those with the most severe medical needs. There is a desperate need for loving homes for these children, but Mohamed Bzeek’s is the only foster home in the county known to take them in.
Photo: PBS video screengrab
“If anyone ever calls us and says, ‘This kid needs to go home on hospice,’ there’s only one name we think of,” Melissa Testerman, a DCFS intake coordinator who finds placements for sick children, told LA Times. “He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.”
Bzeek moved to California from Libya in 1978 as a college student, and in 1987 met a woman named Dawn, who he eventually married. She had begun fostering children in the early 1980s, and her home was an emergency shelter for foster children in protective custody, or who needed immediate placement. In 1989, after getting married, they both decided that they would devote their lives to helping the most vulnerable children.
The Bzeeks went on to open their home to dozens of children throughout the years. They taught classes on foster parenting and how to handle a child’s illness and death, at community colleges . Dawn worked with statewide task forces alongside doctors and policymakers to improve foster care and became renowned as one of the state’s most highly regarded foster mothers.
Photo: Mohamed Bzeek/Facebook
The two dedicated foster parents lost their first foster child in 1991, and the experience profoundly affected the couple. By the mid-1990’s they decided to focus on caring only for terminally ill children, as no one else would take them in.
“The key is, you have to love them like your own,” Bzeek says. “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.”
In 1997 the Bzeeks had their only biological child, Adam, who was born with dwarfism and brittle bone disease. He was so fragile that everyday things like changing his diaper could break bones. Ever resilient, the Bzeeks adapted to his disabilities and accepted him as he was.
Photo: PBS video screengrab
“It’s how God made him, but he is a fighter, just like the kids who have come to live with us,” Bzeek told PEOPLE magazine. “I have been asked, ‘Why do you do this?’ and the answer is simple. Even if these children cannot communicate or see or hear, they have a soul. They need somebody to love them. I tell them, ‘It will be okay — I am here for you. We will go through this together.’ “
In 2000 Dawn fell ill, suffering from powerful seizures that would leave her incapacitated for days. The source of her seizures turned out to be blood clots in her lungs, and in 2015 she succumbed to her illness. After her death, Bzeek said it was only natural for him to continue their work. He now cares for a severely disabled 6-year-old girl who was born deaf, blind and with microcephaly, a condition where the brain doesn’t develop properly, and partially protruded from her skull.
“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” he said. “I’m always holding her, playing with her, touching her. She has feelings. She has a soul. She’s a human being.”
The girl, who cannot be identified due to privacy laws, spends 22 hours a day hooked to feeding and breathing tubes. She has been in Bzeek’s home and his round the clock care since she was a month old.
“Mohamed is an exceptional foster parent — it is his love and excellent care that has kept the child currently in his care thriving when initially, she was only expected to live a few weeks,” said Rosella Yousef, assistant regional administrator for Medical Case Management Services. “He has kept her living well beyond her doctors’ expectations.”
Almost all of the children who have been taken in by Bzeek were sent to him directly from Los Angeles County hospitals as infants, where they had been given up by parents who were unable to meet their needs.
“I’ve had kids come here with everything from spina bifida to brain damage to having no immune system,” he tells PEOPLE, “and many of them don’t even have a name. So I give them a name. And when it is time for them to die, I make sure that their names are remembered. They are never forgotten. Not for a minute.”
Mohamed’s story of dedication to abandoned children who nobody else wants has touched the hearts of millions, many of which wanted to help him out with donations. In the last 9 months, thousands have donated to his cause via a GoFundMe page, raising over $500,000.