“I am not an angel. I am not a hero. It’s just what we are supposed to do as a human being.”
Three weeks ago I wrote about the couple, Michael and Camille Geraldi, who had adopted, over the course of 40 years, some 88 children with special needs. They are an amazing couple and their story was one of my most popular ever. Imagine my amazement when a similar story literally dropped into my lap on Monday night when I was not even looking for a subject for this post, but was doing research for another piece. Please allow me to introduce you to a gentleman with a heart of gold, Mr. Mohamed Bzeek.
Mr. Bzeek lives in Los Angeles, where he has made it his life’s mission to take in foster children. Not just any foster children, but Mr. Bzeek takes in the foster children that nobody else will … those who are dying of terminal illnesses. Mohamed Bzeek started caring for foster children when he met his late wife, who was then already a foster mom. At first, they took in children who had medical issues. In 1995, they started taking in only children who were terminally ill. Over the years, Bzeek says, he’s taken in about 40 children with medical problems, ten of whom died while in his care, some while in his very arms.
Why does he do it? His faith, for one thing. He feels that it’s his duty as a Muslim to help those in need. “It’s the big factor, my faith, because I believe as a Muslim we need to extend our hand to help people who need us. Doesn’t matter what nationality, what religion, what country. To me it doesn’t matter, I do it as a human being for another human being,” he says. “You have to do it from your heart, really. If you do it for money, you’re not going to stay for long.”
Speaking of one of his former children, he says, “And this is my kid who died with the cancer. He has a cancer. He died. They operate on him, and they find the cancer separate all of his organs. So, the doctor said, let’s stitch him back, and said, there’s nothing we can do for him.”
Mr. Bzeek came to the U.S. from Libya in 1978, then an engineering student. Years later, through a mutual friend, he met a woman named Dawn, who would become his wife. She had become a foster parent in the early 1980s, before she met Bzeek. Her grandparents had been foster parents, and she was inspired by them, Bzeek said. Before she met Bzeek, she opened her home as an emergency shelter for foster children who needed immediate placement or who were placed in protective custody. Bzeek became a U.S. citizen in 1997. And then, in 2015, Bzeek’s wife died, and in 2016, Bzeek himself was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had to face everything by myself. If I am 62-years-old and I’m scared and afraid to be by myself – I felt what the kids felt. The young kids, how they feel when they are alone, have no family, nobody comforts them, nobody tells them ‘It’s ok, I’m here for you, we go through this together and it will be fine.’ This operation in December has humbled me, and makes me work more and help more kids.”
The video below is short (3:33 min) but please watch it … I fell in love with Mr. Bzeek when I saw this:
Today, he is foster parent to a 6-year-old girl* born with microcephaly, a rare disorder in which a baby’s brain doesn’t fully develop. She cannot see or hear. She responds only to touch. At seven weeks old, the county took her from her biological parents. They called Bzeek, and he agreed to take her in.
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.” A snippet of an interview between Mr. Bzeek and NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro:
Bzeek: And, also, she has, like, seizures. She’s blind and deaf. She has clubfoot and dislocated hips.
Navarro: How do you communicate with her? She is blind. She can’t hear.
Bzeek: Touch – communication, touching her, you know? She smiled when I play with her and make a little bit, like, noise, you know? It doesn’t mean anything. But that shows you that, you know, she understands that somebody tried to communicate with her, you know?
Navarro: How many of them have died in your care?
Bzeek: Ten. They need somebody who will be with them and take care of them, you know? It doesn’t matter how hard, you know, because somebody has to do it.
Navarro: How do you deal with the loss when they pass away? How do you cope?
Bzeek: I mean, at church. You know, you have a kid since it was a baby, since it was one week or two weeks or a few days. And, like, some of them stayed, like, six years and four months. It’s really hard. I mean, I consider them as, like, my biological, you know? And it hurts. But I believe that is part of life, you know?
Melissa Testerman, an intake coordinator for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has nothing but the highest praise for Mr. Bzeek. “If anyone ever calls us and says, ‘This kid needs to go home on hospice,’ there’s only one name we think of. He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.”
Neil Zanville of the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services says that without Bzeek these children would be forced to live in medical facilities rather than the comfort of a loving home. “Mr. Bzeek is dealing with children who only have a limited amount of time. I think he’s even taken children in that died days later. So it’s the rare individual, or he might be the only individual in LA county, that will provide a home environment and provide love and care when a child in fact has very limited time left.”
On reading his story in the Los Angeles Times (an excellent read, if you have time) in February, a woman named Margaret Cotts was so moved that she decided to set up a GoFundMe account to help Mr. Bzeek. The donations will be used to get him central air conditioning and heating (right now he only has a swamp cooler in his living room), additional help, a new car and roof repairs. As of this writing, the account has received $496,253!!!
Bzeek’s own biological son, Adam, himself was born in 1997 with brittle bones, dwarfism and other physical challenges and requires much care. At 19 years of age, and a computer science student at a local college, he weighs a scant 65 pounds. A nurse’s aide helps with care on weekdays from 8:00 to 4:00. But, still, it’s a full-time job, one Mr. Bzeek handles by himself every night and every weekend. Sleep is a precious commodity, and other than his time in the hospital last December, Mr. Bzeek has not had a “day off” since 2010. With his foster daughter’s seizures happening more and more often, he usually sleeps near her on the couch, just in case.
So the next time you hear somebody say we should ban all Muslims, think of Mr. Bzeek and think about all the children who would have spent their last days on earth all alone if not for him. I know that if I ever get to L.A., I will make time to stop by and shake his hand. In the words of Rod Dreher writing for the American Conservative, “The whole story is so beautiful it hurts.”
*No names of the children can be used because of privacy laws