Patty's background is unique. She was born in Khumasi, Ghana, and lived in Africa, Athens, New York, and Montreal before moving to Los Angeles when she was eight.
At that age, she was already speaking and writing English and Greek fluently. She will always identify as Greek in ethos and her soul.
She began training in classical piano at eight, and by 18, was proficient. She also studied voice and can sing anything from a song from West Side Story to an old rebetiko.
Notwithstanding her decision to study law, much of her happiness comes from music – Rachmaninoff to Miles Davis to Manos Hajidakis.
There is a saying – the law is reason without passion. She disagrees: “I think a life without passion lacks meaning – personally and professionally.”
Her family owned a very famous Greek nightclub called the Athenian Gardens in Hollywood where most of the famous Greek singers – Parios, Marinella, Dionysiou, Alexiou, Dalaras, to name a few, passed through the doors.
When in Greece, many think she is Greek-born and raised. Similarly, in the States, only people very close to her realize how Greek she is.
In a way, she thinks she has a duality – Greek spirit, American upbringing.
The National Herald: You contracted the coronavirus.
Patty Bilgin: I contracted COVID-19 in November 2020, at the height of the surge in California. Having traveled through the hell that this virus is, I think that people live under a false assumption of security that once we are fully vaccinated, COVID is no longer an issue.
This virus is insidious. It mutates and adapts very quickly, as we have seen with the Delta variant, which can be more transmissible and deadlier. In Missouri, the Delta variant is surging, causing the spread of COVID and a rise in hospitalizations.
I have my suspicions regarding how I contracted COVID. I was very prophylactic and was effectively in self-imposed solitude.
TNH: What were the first signs, and what happened afterward?
PB: My first sign was a fever and cough. When my oxygen levels dipped to under 80, I was rushed to the Emergency Room at Cedars Sinai. There began my descent into hell. I was intubated and placed on a ventilator and was given paralytic drugs to induce this state. That is the last thing I remember.
I embarked on a surreal journey. I immediately left my body, and whatever you want to call it, the soul, particulate matter, or energy was flying through time and other dimensions. I had a near-death experience that was vivid and experienced through the lenses of an altered state.
If you have seen the movie Contact, the color of my dreams or hallucinations was like a kaleidoscope. I saw most of my dead relatives in Greece. I visited Lycouria in Kalavrita, where I spoke to my deceased grandfather, Tasso Bravos, whom I never met since the Communists killed him in 1945. He told me to remember his name, which, as you know, means rebirth, and told me to look at his cross.
There were many religious metaphors in my travels, and I remember traveling to Tinos, to the church of the Panagia, to light a candle. I did not know at that time, but my mother was also praying to that same shrine, and we have decided when we visit Greece to visit Tinos.
In my dreams, I also played the lead in West Side Story, Gypsy, My Fair Lady, and Into the Woods since I am a huge Steven Sondheim fan. My ICU nurse, Heidi, who I remember asking me to squeeze her hand and not give up, magically turned into Madame Butterfly singing her death aria to me.
The most vivid memory is of my dead uncle, Peter (again the name Panayotis), playing the bouzouki through a white light. In life, we used to sing, he playing the bouzouki, me the piano. He played ‘Mi mou thimonis matia mou,’ one of my favorite songs, and asked me to join him on the other side.
As pleasant as it felt, I knew intuitively and on a subconscious level that this was death calling me. I thought of my two children and remembered telling him, “another time.”
I believe that God, the ultimate force, decided it was not my time. Given the gravity of my medical condition – COVID 19, Covid-related pneumonia, Sepsis, persistent fever – it is a miracle that I survived, and speaking to you today.
TNH: You lost 30 lbs. How are you recovering?
PB: The process of recovery for ‘long haulers’ depends on each person. I still battle myriad symptoms such as chronic fatigue and reliving the trauma of the ICU. I lost thirty pounds in the ICU, and as a result of the anti-viral drugs such as Remdisivir, I lost most of my hair, which is beginning to re-grow.
TNH: How appreciative of life are you now?
PB: I am very grateful to be alive.
Everyone that has experienced a near-death experience describes a commonality of feelings. I now believe that there is a schism between the soul and body but that that birth, death, and ‘afterlife’ are all part of a continuum we cannot explain. That is faith, and the laws of karma always prevail. Matter and energy can change forms but cannot be created or destroyed. The purpose of life is to be happy, to be mindful, to laugh, to be grateful, to love, and live in the present because there is no guarantee of tomorrow.
TNH: On another note, how would you describe your career up to now?
PB: I began working at the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney as a prosecutor in 1995. In 2003, I became the Supervising Attorney of the Environmental Justice and Protection Section.
It was a proactive model of prosecution aimed at protecting the most underserved communities in Los Angeles burdened by toxic polluters negatively impacting water, soil, and air quality and compromising the health and safety of people, especially children, residing in these communities.
I assembled a Task Force of regulatory agencies responsible for the oversight of air quality, water quality, and groundwater quality. We commenced complex civil enforcement actions and criminal prosecution, where appropriate. The unit also engaged in community outreach and participation.
The concept of environmental justice recognizes that environmental racism is real – poor communities and communities of color will always suffer the disproportionate burden of being exposed to toxic polluters such as oil refineries and hazardous waste facilities.
Since a prosecutor's job is to do justice, our mission was designed to bring justice to these communities.
TNH: What are the focal points in your professional life?
PB: They were many highlights during 2004-2015, commencing with complex Prop.65 cases with the Office of the Attorney General against Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Cadbury Schweppes to remove the lead from beverages manufactured in Mexico – removing lead from candy (primarily ingested by children and pregnant women) manufactured in Mexico, removing lead from toys manufactured in China, and removing lead from Astroturf.
Lead is a known carcinogen and reproductive toxicant that can also cause developmental delay, seizures, even death. There is no safe level of lead, which is why these cases were important and groundbreaking.
The Unit was also responsible for closing down a chrome plater located adjacent to the fifth largest elementary school in the Western States and commencing a civil enforcement action against an oil and gas facility operating adjacent to low-income housing.
One of the more interesting cases involved Reggie the Alligator, who was dumped into Machado Lake in San Pedro. This case made the Tokyo Times, and there was a Reggie sighting nearly every day until he was captured by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and housed in the Los Angeles Zoo. Reggie attempted to escape, resulting in the media dubbing him ‘John Dillinger!'
The Environmental Justice and Protection Section won many awards, from the California League of cities, for synergy and collaboration and from the California Regional Water Quality Board for protecting water quality. In the end, to know that you may have impacted the life of one child makes it all worth it.
As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”