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'I Know They Are Going to Die.' Foster Father Takes in Only Terminally Ill Children

I know he wouldn't admit it, but every day has to be devastating for foster parent Mohamed Bzeek. That's because he has chosen a tough, heart-wrenching vocation. The quiet, devout, Libyan-born Muslim has for more than two decades been a father to terminally ill children in Los Angeles County’s foster care system. And as a long profile in the Los Angeles Times makes clear, he is very good at what he does. Bzeek reportedly has buried about ten children -- some of whom died in his arms -- yet still maintains the patience and empathy to do what even the children's parents can't or won't do.

Bzeek is presently taking care of a bedridden 6-year-old foster girl with a rare brain defect. Blind and deaf, she has daily seizures and her arms and legs are paralyzed. The 62-year-old's vocation is to make sure children like her know "they're not alone in life."

There is a dire need for foster parents to care for such children.

And there is only one person like Bzeek.

“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, a DCFS intake coordinator who finds placements for sick children. “He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.”

Typically, she said, children with complex conditions are placed in medical facilities or with nurses who have opted to become foster parents.

Yousef said that Bzeek is the only foster parent in the county known to take in terminally ill children, and clearly, he is valued for that. These are children whose own parents, in many cases, don't want to care for them.

The girl sits propped up with pillows in the corner of Bzeek’s living room couch. She has long, thin brown hair pulled into a ponytail and perfectly arched eyebrows over unseeing gray eyes.

Because of confidentiality laws, the girl is not being identified. But a special court order allowed The Times to spend time at Bzeek’s home and to interview people involved in his foster daughter’s case.

The girl’s head is too small for her 34-pound body, which is too small for her age. She was born with an encephalocele, a rare malformation in which part of her brain protruded through an opening in her skull, according to Dr. Suzanne Roberts, the girl’s pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Neurosurgeons removed the protruding brain tissue shortly after her birth, but much of her brain remains undeveloped.

She has been in Bzeek’s care since she was a month old. Before her, he cared for three other children with the same condition.

“These kids, it’s a life sentence for them,” he said.