Friday, February 24, 2017


To foster any child takes an extraordinary amount of selfless love and devotion. But one man in Los Angeles has taken on an even more monumental role: caring for the city's dying children.

Mohamed Bzeek is that man: A devout Libyan-born Muslim who has spent the last 20 years giving hope and comfort to children no other person would touch - ten of whom have died.

'The key is, you have to love them like your own,' Bzeek 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.'

Hero: Mohamed Bzeek came to the US in 1978; he has been fostering terminally ill children for 20 years, even after having a disabled son, Adam, in 2007, and the death of his wife in 2013.

Bzeek, 62, moved to the US from Libya as a college student in 1978. He began fostering children in 1989, and in 1991 he experienced his first death.

The girl had been affected in the womb by pesticides sprayed on her farm-worker mother, and her spine was so deformed that she had to wear a full body cast.

She was in his home for just a year when she passed away. Bzeek still has a photograph of the girl lying in her coffin, surrounded by flowers.

Another child - a boy who had to be admitted to hospital 167 times and died aged eight - was born with short-gut syndrome and couldn't eat food.

I know she can't hear, can't see, but I always talk to her ... She has feelings. She has a soul. She's a human being.

Mohamad Bzeek, on his current, severely disabled foster child
Nevertheless, Bzeek would sit him down at the table with a bowl and spoon so that he could feel like part of the family.

Now, Bzeek is caring for a girl who was born with encephalocele, which left her mentally and physically underdeveloped - and with parts of her brain protruding from a hole in her skull that had to be surgically removed.

She is blind and deaf, paralyzed in her arms and legs, and suffers seizures every day.
She spends at least 22 hours of every 24 on feeding and breathing tubes.
But Bzeek keeps a vigil, day and night, over her tiny body, to make sure she has as much comfort as he can give her.

'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.'

Bzeek is currently caring for a paralyzed blind and deaf girl, 6. She needs medical care 22 hours a day, but he stands vigil, and provides comfort with a touch

Doctors gave up hope on the girl, who is not being named due to confidentiality laws, when she was two years old.
She is now six.

That, says Dr Suzanne Roberts, the girl's pediatrician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, is entirely thanks to Bzeek, who is now something of a legend in the local community.

'If anyone ever calls us and says, "This kid needs to go home on hospice," there's only one name we think of,' said Melissa Testerman, who places children into foster care.

He's the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it - Dr Suzanne Roberts, local pediatrician
But Bzeek might not have found this calling had it not been for his former wife, Dawn.
The couple met through a mutual friend in the 1980s, by which time - inspired by her grandparents, who also fostered children - she had already started taking in kids.

She became so well known, in fact, that statewide task forces would seek her input on improving foster care, along with doctors and policymakers.

Bzeek joined her in caring for children - including the girl who was affected by pesticides in the womb - and by the mid-1990s they had decided to focus on terminally ill youths.

They kept the work up even when their son, Adam, was born in 1997 with brittle bone disease and dwarfism.

Adam - now studying computers at college - grew up fully aware of how short his sibilings' lives would be, and was taught to find joy in every small moment of happiness.

Happiness doesn't last forever, however. Around 2000, Dawn began to have seizures that would leave her housebound for days.

The added stress tore their marriage apart; they split in 2013, and she died around a year later.

Carer: Bzeek is the only man local authorities can turn to when a terminally ill child needs to be fostered. 'I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God,' he said

Bzeek tears up when he thinks of his wife. She was always stronger than him when children passed away, he said.

But he has carried on, helping the most helpless of LA's children, and inspiring those who know him.

They include Roberts, who knows just how much Bzeek's current charge - tiny, crippled, deaf and blind - needs his care.

'When she's not sick, and in a good mood, she'll cry to be held,' Roberts said. 'She's not verbal, but she can make her needs known.

'Her life is not complete suffering. She has moments where she's enjoying herself and she's pretty content, and it's all because of Mohamed.'

By James Wilkinson For

NOTE: Bzeek has been diagnosed with cancer himself. He is supposed to have surgery but delays it because of the sick children. Google posts show that money is pouring in to help him now.

The Libyan Muslim immigrant who cares for LA's dying foster children - To foster any child takes an extraordinary amount of selfless love and devotion. 

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