For more than two decades, Mohamed Bzeek has quietly cared for children who are frequently neglected — terminally ill foster kids who often can’t see, hear or talk, and have little time left to experience love, hope and laughter.
Since 1995, Bzeek, 62, of Azusa, California, has buried 10 severely disabled foster children, in addition to his wife, Dawn, who died two years ago after developing blood clots in her lungs. Dawn, who was caring for foster children when she and Mohamed met, agreed with him after they married that they should devote themselves to enhancing the lives of the most vulnerable.
After her death, “it only seemed natural to continue,” says Bzeek, who is now looking after a 6-year-old girl whom he can’t name due to privacy laws. Born deaf, blind and with microcephaly — a condition where the brain doesn’t develop properly, “the only way to communicate with her is by touch,” Bzeek tells PEOPLE, “and so I hold her. I want to know that somebody is here for her. Somebody loves her. She is not alone.”
On Father’s Day, Bzeek will spend the day as he spends any other, looking after his foster child, who spends 22 hours of her day hooked to feeding and breathing tubes (he sleeps on a sofa next to her bed), and also helping his 19-year-old son, Adam, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.
Adam, a computer science student at Citrus College, is unable to use his hands much, so his father helps him complete his homework assignments and perform simple tasks such as putting on shoes and bathing.
“It’s how God made him, but he is a fighter, just like the kids who have come to live with us,” Bzeek tells PEOPLE. “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.’ “
Almost all of the children who spent their final years with Bzeek were sent to him directly from Los Angeles County hospitals as infants, where they were given up or abandoned by parents who were unable to care for them.
More than 35,000 children are currently registered in the county’s Department of Children and Family Services system, says Rosella Yousef, assistant regional administrator for Medical Case Management Services, with about 600 of those having severe medical needs.
Bzeek, who is the only foster parent she knows of in Los Angeles County who will take in terminally ill children rather than leave them in the care of hospitals, is paid about $1,700 a month to look after the girl currently living in his home.
“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,” Yousef tells PEOPLE. “He has kept her living well beyond her doctors’ expectations.”
“His full time attention has been on providing a home and a family to one terminally ill child at a time,” she adds, “because he feels that every child deserves a loving family. It’s my hope that others will see from his example that opening their hearts and homes to a foster child in need can make a lifelong difference in that child’s quality of life.”
Born in Libya, Bzeek, a devout Muslim, came to the United States as a college student in 1978. After marrying Dawn in 1989, “I learned a lot from her about the importance of foster parenting,” he tells PEOPLE. “She’d opened her heart for years to children who needed emergency foster care. It was just who she was. She was such a generous person — she loved each and every child who ended up in her care, whether for a few weeks or for many years.”
With Dawn, Bzeek helped care for dozens of children, but he developed the deepest bond with disabled and abandoned children who needed love and kindness the most.
“Their lives have value — it makes me happy when I see them smiling and know they are happy and content,” he says. “You don’t need words to know that.”
Today, he says that he feels duty-bound and honored to give the children in his care compassion and dignity in the last years of their lives.
“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.”
As painful as it has been to say goodbye to 10 foster children, “dying is a part of life, and you can’t buy yourself one minute when your time comes,” Bzeek says. “So I give these kids the best I have to offer in the short time they’re here. They leave here knowing that they were loved.”