‘Caretaking and heartbreaking:’ The extraordinary story of a man who fosters terminally ill children

Mohamed Bzeek refers to his actions as his life’s work. The 65-year-old former Libyan immigrant has devoted his life to caring for children who have no one else to turn to in their final weeks on Earth.

Bzeek came to the United States over 40 years ago to study electronic engineering. In 1997, he married his late wife and became a citizen. The widower now resides in Los Angeles, where he is one of the few foster parents who only care for children who are terminally ill. His story made headlines in 2019 when the Los Angeles Times published an article about his work.

“Ten children perished in my arms.”

The Diyanet Foundation presented him with the International Benevolence Award, and his life was recently adapted into a documentary directed by Ensar Altay.

“In 1995, we decided to adopt orphans who had been left in hospitals or taken from their families by the state due to violence and pressure,” explained Bzeek, a marathon runner, before coming to America. “The only house that accepts orphans and children about to die in Los Angeles is mine. Since 1989, I’ve worked with over 80 children. Ten children were killed in my arms.”

The Los Angeles Department of Child Services collaborates closely with Bzeek. “They notify me when a child is about to die and ask if I can adopt them. They are well aware that I do not hesitate to accept. If I don’t, they are hospitalized and have no family or home. When I take them, however, they experience a family atmosphere. They know they are safe and loved until the end of their lives.”

In many cases, he names the children and provides them with shelter and love. “In the hospital, they give birth and then leave,” Bzeek explained in an interview with the Los Angeles hospital. “Their families do not name them. ‘Baby boy,’ ‘Baby girl,’ says the paper. I give them names. “I call them by their names.”

Sophie Keefer is a pediatric palliative care nurse. She recently met with Mohamed and wrote for the International Children’s Palliative Care Network about her experience.

“He was a big bear with a long beard and a gentle smile.” Sophie penned a letter. “His foster daughter was sitting on the couch. When Mohamed went to hold this small, frail girl, he warned me that she has seizures on occasion and that if I was holding her at the time, to keep holding her and it would pass quickly. I appreciated how calm and matter-of-fact the conversation was, which allowed me to confidently hold her, ready for whatever her body would do.

She’d been born with an encephalocele, which meant that a portion of her brain protruded through a hole in her skull. She is unable to see, hear, speak, or move. She, on the other hand, can feel and respond to touch. When you stroke her, gently, she relaxes, and as you cradle her body, it moves in sync with yours”.

Bzeek adopted the baby girl when she was only seven weeks old. He was told she had only a few months to live. She is now six years old. Her biological parents were taken away by the county. Adam (19), his biological son, was born with the challenges of brittle bones and dwarfism. He’s broken nearly every bone in his body at some point.

Bzeek describes caring for the sick as a painful process. He understands how valuable their time together is. “I understand the anguish. I know it’s a lot of work, and I know it’ll hurt me at times. I’m sad, you know. But, in my opinion, we should assist one another.”

Sophie claims that Mohamed cooked for her in his immaculate kitchen and talked about religion and its significance in his life. “I’ve been told that my story has touched others and restored their faith in humanity – that it has changed their perception of Muslim Americans. True Islam, in my opinion, is about love, compassion, and sympathy for others. If I can assist someone, I must.”

Mohammed has been working with a nurse who comes every day so he can take small breaks, run errands, and pray at his mosque for the past four years. He received a lot of media attention after the LA Times article. One online commenter referred to Bzeek as the Muslim Mother Teresa, and another set up a GoFundMe account on his behalf, which he was unaware of until the company contacted him. The donations will supplement the $1,600 per month he receives from L.A. County. He intends to use the funds for home improvements, beginning with the air conditioning installation.

He now has his health issues. Doctors told him last year that he had stage 2 colon cancer. He described his reaction to the news in an interview with the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. “I was scared because I didn’t have any family with me,” he says. “I felt the same way the children do. They are by themselves. What about them if I’m 62 and scared?”


Similar articles