Parents Perspective

'I Love Them Like My Own': The Father Who Only Takes in Sick Children

I’m a foster dad who takes in only terminally ill children. Why? No one else will. 

Foster Dad and Ill Children Illustration Andrew Bannecker

When I brought my foster daughter home from the hospital, she was 7 weeks old. She’s 6 now but weighs only 34 pounds. She has microcephaly, a defect where her brain is very small, and she is blind and deaf and has seizures. She will die from it someday. The only way I can communicate with her is by touch, but she knows I am there and smiles sometimes. I love her like my own.

I’m 62 and have been a foster dad from the time I met my wife, Dawn, in 1989. She died in 2014. Dawn had already been a foster mother, mostly caring for children with medical problems. About 20 years ago, we decided to foster only kids who were terminally ill. When people ask why, my answer is simple. Nobody wants these kids. They need our help more than anyone. When you take them home from the hospital, they have the security of a family. You can tell them, “I am here for you. We will be fine.”

Together, my wife and I cared for dozens of foster children. Ten have died, most of them in our arms. It is heartbreaking—but made better because someone is holding them. They are not alone when their time comes.

I remember every child I’ve cared for very clearly. The first one we lost was the most painful. She was born with spina bifida. Part of her spine was actually outside her skin, and she had to wear a fullbody cast. She was almost 2 when she died suddenly on July 4, 1991, while Dawn and I were getting dinner ready. I still have a photo of her from the funeral—a tiny, beautiful girl in a white dress, surrounded by yellow flowers. I cry every time I look at it. 

There are always more kids who need a home, but now that it’s just me, I can handle only one at a time. I have a nurse who comes to help out some days, but otherwise I am on constant watch over my current foster daughter. She requires oxygen and a feeding tube and needs to sleep sitting up because she might choke. I sleep on the sofa next to her. 

Without Dawn, I have to be both father and mother to her. Is it too much? Sometimes. But my Muslim faith, which obligates me to provide help to other humans and teaches me to see only the human being, helps me through it. 

My daughter has come close to dying several times, and doctors tell me I am why she is still alive. But I am not a hero. This is what we are supposed to do as human beings, and I will be a foster parent as long as I am able. 

To contribute to a GoFundMe campaign to pay for Bzeek’s nursing and other costs, visit gofundme.com/bzeek.