Dentist pays honor to frontline responders and workers

Alsu and Sami Bilani recently created a memorial garden in a parking lot next to their dental office. The garden commemorates those first responders who lost their lives to COVID-19.



By Alan Madlane
Sami Bilani is a local dentist with a wide open vision.
Or is that an “open wide” vision?
Well anyway, he’s not the kind of guy who just sits still. Even if he expects you to when you’re in his dental chair.
We caught up Dr. Bilani to ask him about the new memorial garden he’s recently had built in a parking next to his office.

The Review: So how did you get the idea for this garden? Was it something you’ve had in mind ever since the pandemic arrived in our area? Also, did you have any personal involvement with the Corona virus that inspired the tribute?

Dr. Bilani: More than one factor inspired the idea. If you remember my townhouses project on the parking lot, a rain garden was included in the project at that part of the lot.
Since the main project was put on hold, waiting for certain issues to be resolved, there was no reason not to start the garden itself.
When the pandemic arrived in our area, I was forced to close my office, and although I am a health provider and my wife Alsu (who also holds a masters degree in theater criticism) studied to be a nurse as well, neither of us were any help in this unprecedented situation.
We both felt guilty, especially after hearing the horrible things happening in hospitals and nursing homes from our friends who are doctors and nurses. So we thought that the least we could do would be to start a memorial garden.
In this way, we could remember the thousands of Americans who lost their lives because of COVID-19, and at the same time, give a thankful tribute to all the doctors, nurses and front-liners who kept us alive.

The Review: Who designed the garden? How was it decided what plants to use, for example, or what other elements of the garden?

Bilani: First I and my wife decided on the basics. We felt that it had to be mostly evergreen in order to look nice and enjoyable all year around, keeping in mind cost and maintenance.
We decided to start with ten trees. A willow tree in the middle, giant pine trees in the back, two blue spruces in between, a birch tree, and one red and one green maple tree each.
The memorial stone had to be not more than 10 feet from the sidewalk to be easy to read, and with no high plants in the front of it, to keep it visible.
Alsu did her research for each kind of tree mentioned, assessing their chances of survival and how much distance apart they should be, to give them room to grow, taking into consideration the power lines passing over the lot. So we kept the high trees in the middle to protect the DTE lines.
Around the stone, we decided on a combination of colorful roses and evergreen plants that spread horizontally. My friend Michael Jacob, who is a landscaping architect, suggested the symmetrical look, in combination with the descending heights of plants from back to front.
After establishing all these basics, I will say everything else went spontaneously, without any planning. From the size of the surroundings, of the trees; to the colored mulch in between to create a walking path, to the number and size of plants in the front, and finally to the wooden barriers around the trees — which we were buying whatever we were able to find in stores.

The Review: Can you tell us, at least roughly, how much the garden cost you to create altogether? Did it all come out of your own pocket, or did you fundraise to help share cost?

Bilani: One hundred percent of the cost came out of my own pocket.
I did that because I believe totally in the cause. No matter how much money you spend, it’s nothing compared to the cost in lost lives, and the great sacrifices doctors and nurses have made for us.
I can say that 40 percent of the cost went to the memorial stone itself. Thanks for Down River Stone Design (DSD), represented by both Tom Woodruff, Sr., and his son Tom Jr., who gave me a good deal as they recognized the cause, and the purpose of the stone.
Another 20 percent of the cost went to breaking up the old concrete and removing it. Thanks also for Carleton Whitsett, who was able to get me a good deal from Dynamic Sealcoating company.
They did a great job breaking the concrete, removing it, then cleaning and removing the debris from the small back alley that had not been cleaned at least since I moved to Hamtramck in 1995.
Another 20 percent went for the topsoil to replace the concrete. This work was also done by Dynamic Sealcoating LLC. The final 20 percent went for purchasing trees, plants, soil, compost, soil conditioner and mulch.

The Review: Do you have any plans to expand it in the future? Or to create another like it, or any other sort of further tribute?

Bilani: Part of the present plan is a mural that will be painted on my office building wall, looking at the garden and completing the same tribute. The muralist Jake Dwyer, who has done other beautiful murals in Detroit, already designed this mural.
Security Cameras have been installed in and around my building to protect the garden. Here, I have to thank Max Garbarino from the City of Hamtramck, and Sergeant Denis Janowicz from the police department, who helped significantly in securing the lot and the garden.
A beautiful composite fence will be surrounding the parking lot and the garden for added security and protection. The permit for the fence was approved already by the City of Hamtramck.
Thanks to Grace Stamper in the city planning department and Inspector Bruce Eck from the building department. They took the time to visit the site, and approved the fencing.

The composite fence is twice as expensive as the wooden fence, but it’s maintenance free, more durable, and a hundred times better looking. So, in the long run, it will justify the cost. Labor costs are the same for either kind of material.
The size of the garden now is 1,500 sq. ft. It is in my mind to increase the space, but it will all depend on the final decision made about the town house project.

The Review: While we have you, your office phone message suggests that you’ll open up for full dental services on Aug. 3. Is this date still the target?

Bilani: Yes, August 3 is still the target date to reopen the office. We are updating our computers, dental programs and digital panoramic x-rays. Also, believe it or not, we are still experiencing a shortage of Personal Protection Equipment. I am hoping by the end of July we should be ready to open safely and efficiently.

The Review: Would you like to take a moment to talk about your safety protocols in place at the dental office?

Bilani: We had to come up with new protocols, for the safety of both my staff and my patients. A.C. (After Corona) is nothing like B.C. (Before Corona). Here are some of the changes:
The main entry doors of the office will always be locked, and doorbells were installed on both entrances, along with cameras. Only one patient at a time, and they must have an appointment, is allowed to come in.
There is no waiting in the waiting room. The magazines have been removed. The patient will be urged to be on time for their appointment, and will be asked to stay in their car until their room is ready.
We usually allot an hour for each appointment, but now we are giving it 90 minutes. We figured out that we going to need at least 45 minutes now to disinfect the operating room after each patient, instead of the normal 15 minutes.
Patients will be provided with disposable shoe coverings to wear once inside the office, and must keep them on until they leave the office. He or she will also be asked to disinfect their hands with a provided disinfectant before coming into their room, and then will be provided with mouthwash for pre-rinsing before any treatment or diagnosis starts.
Dental chairs will be covered with extra layers of disposable plastic covers that will be replaced after each patient.
I, and my staff, will be wearing disposable gowns, disposable face shields and disposable masks that will all be changed, and then disposed of, in a special room next to the operating room after each patient.
Only one operating room will be used at a time.
We are still looking for a new type of plastic tent to be invented that will cover the patient and help me operate from underneath, without contaminating the rest of the room surfaces, which would help us in speeding up the disinfection process, and in keeping our patients safe as well.
We are looking now for a new vacuum, the type that has been modified to suck all the air droplets from the room during treatment. They’re still not easily found on the market.
We will keep looking, and will not ignore any new methods or devices that will help to keep us, and our patients, safe.

The Review: Feel free to add anything else you’d care to.

Bilani: Finally, I would like to ask all my dear neighbors to cooperate with me.
Please keep your trash cans inside your yards when it’s not garbage day, because it’s not only an eyesore, and unhygienic besides, but it’s against the law and you could be fined for not doing so. Please paint and fix your garage doors and roofs, and let’s make it a beautiful block. I will also ask the liquor store again to, please, move your dumpster to your parking lot.
We are attempting to remember thousands of people that we lost because of this pandemic, and we are likewise paying tribute to the enormous sacrifices of all the doctors and nurses.
This tribute will not be nearly so nice if we don’t all work together to keep the surrounding area clean and presentable.
I had been interviewed by radio stations like WWJ, TV stations like Fox and received request by Metro Times for an interview. It shows that the word spread about this garden, promising to be a landmark of the city of Hamtramck after we finish it all.
So, I will kindly ask city officials to please fix the alley between the mural and the garden, and to enforce the building and trash codes, because those areas will be exposed to both the local and national media. This will be a great chance to show our city in a presentable civilized look. Also, I will urge the water department to consider giving me a break on my water bill for two reasons:
The garden needs a lot of watering too, at least in the first few years. This water is going directly into the ground, and will never go to the sewer.
So, it’s not fair to charge me for the sewer service — at least, not for this amount of water.
The 10 trees and plants already in the garden will also soak up all the rainwater that used to end up in the sewer system before removing the concrete.
This will hence reduce the pressure on the pipes, and help in preventing, to a certain extent, the yearly basement flooding that we all suffered from in this block.
Thank you very much for giving me the chance to clarify my plans. I will be looking to have more planning meetings, after I conclude my project fully with the mural and the fence, hopefully in the coming August.

Posted July 24, 2020

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