‘I know they are going to die.’ This foster father takes in only terminally ill children

By Hailey Branson-Potts for The LA Times

The children were going to die.

Mohamed Bzeek knew that. But in his more than two decades as a foster father, he took them in anyway — the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County’s sprawling foster care system.

He has buried about 10 children. Some died in his arms.

Now, Bzeek spends long days and sleepless nights caring for a bedridden 6-year-old foster girl with a rare brain defect. She’s blind and deaf. She has daily seizures. Her arms and legs are paralyzed.

Bzeek, a quiet, devout Libyan-born Muslim who lives in Azusa, just wants her to know she’s not alone in this life.

“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.”

Of the 35,000 children monitored by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, there are about 600 children at any given time who fall under the care of the department’s Medical Case Management Services, which serves those with the most severe medical needs, said Rosella Yousef, an assistant regional administrator for the unit.

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.

But Bzeek is the only foster parent in the county known to take in terminally ill children, Yousef said. Though she knows the single father is stretched thin caring for the girl, who requires around-the-clock care, Yousef still approached him at a department Christmas party in December and asked if he could possibly take in another sick child.

This time, Bzeek politely declined.

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