Human Interest

Man fosters children with life-limiting conditions: ‘It’s heartbreak. But we should help each other’

Mohamed Bzeek believes that every child has worth and dignity, and deserves love. Too many children with life-limiting conditions in foster care live out their last days alone, afraid, or abandoned because of their conditions — but Bzeek has a place in his heart for those children. For the past 32 years, he has been giving them a place in his home. Caring for these children was something his wife, Dawn Bzeek, had started doing before they met, reports the LA Times

Dawn’s grandparents had been foster parents, and she looked to them as her example. As an adult, Dawn routinely opened her home to children who were in danger, in emergent need, or whom no one else would take. She organized toy drives for them, took professional photos of them, and did everything possible to make sure they were loved. After she married Mohamed in 1989, he learned from her example, and the two of them cared for children who had no one else to love them Many were very sick, and the couple embraced those children in their last moments so they would not feel alone. 

The two cared for many different children, even teaching classes at the local community college about caring for foster children and dealing with death. In 1995, they decided to care exclusively for children with terminal illnesses. In 1997, their biological son Adam was born with dwarfism and osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). 

When Dawn passed away in 2015 after her own illness, Mohamed continued to care for these children in and with Dawn’s memory. More than 80 children have been through his home, and Mohamed says he has loved every one of them as his own son or daughter.

“I consider them as my biological kids. I never, never think about them as foster kids. And it really gives me great joy when I see them laughing and see a smile in their face,” he said in a video

READ: Perinatal hospice helps families bond, grieve, heal after life-limiting prenatal diagnosis

Bzeek truly empathizes with these small children who have no one else in the world. Bzeek cites his Muslim faith, as well as a deep belief in the dignity of each human being, as motivation for what he does. “Imagine a little kid born with terminal illness and he’s taken away from his mom and dad for maybe drug abuse or neglect. They’re traumatized! They’re scared! I mean, you take you from everybody that you know to put you somewhere else. On top of that, you are sick and you have terminal illness.” 

Samantha was a little girl who came to Bzeek when she was seven weeks old. She was born with anencephaly, and her biological parents left her in a children’s hospice. She cannot hear, see, move, or speak, but she can feel. She requires round-the-clock care, and she has frequent seizures. When Bzeek took her into his home, he was told she would live only a few months. However, under Bzeek’s loving care – holding her, rocking her, sleeping on the couch near her so he could help her if she struggled or choked during the night – she lived years longer than anyone expected, and passed away the morning of her 9th birthday. This was both a miracle and a heartbreak for Bzeek. 

Some have asked why he would willingly put himself through such heartbreak, bonding with the most vulnerable children who would soon leave him. But Mohamed knew what he signed up for; as he told Image, “I know it’s heartbreak. I know it’s a lot of work and I know it’s going to hurt me sometimes. You know, I feel sad. But, in my opinion, we should help each other, you know?”

Bzeek himself also had his own frightening medical experience when he was diagnosed with colon cancer and was facing surgery to have it removed. “I was so scared, I felt what the kids felt. This makes me do more for these kids because I was in their shoes,” he said. Bzeek’s battle with cancer is ongoing. 

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