Salvatore “Sam” Trusello was pretty healthy for a man of 86.
Mentally, he was still sharp. He wasn’t on any medication. And the way he was going, his daughters thought he could easily live another 10 years.
Now, the World War II veteran and retired Niagara Falls baker is fighting for his life, after his 87-year-old roommate severely beat him with a 2½-pound magnet.
“His body has sustained such physical damage, we don’t know if he can survive it,” daughter Lisa Trusello Snow said Saturday.
Trusello remains in critical condition in Erie County Medical Center, following the attack in a Town of Tonawanda adult-care facility nearly two weeks ago.
The accused attacker, identified as Chester Rusek, was arrested on first-degree assault charges and sent to the Erie County Holding Center in lieu of $10,000 bail.
Trusello’s family is left with no answers. “It’s devastating to our family, not only that this happened to him, but that it happened at a place you expect to be secure and safe,” Trusello Snow said by phone from her home in California.
“This never should have happened under any circumstances,” she said. “I’m not placing blame, but this should have never happened.”
The assault occurred at about 9:30 a.m. Nov. 26 in the room the two men shared at Kenwell, located at 3456 Delaware Ave.
The 2½-pound magnet was tied to a string, which Rusek repeatedly swung at Trusello in his bed, police said.
Then, Rusek – who uses a walker – went down the hall and told an attendant to get medical help for Trusello.
Rusek believed Trusello was stealing from him, investigators said.
“I didn’t want to kill him,” Rusek later told police. “I just wanted to get even.”
Trusello’s daughter doesn’t believe there was any theft.
“No, that’s not my dad,” she said. “My dad mostly gets along with everyone there. He had no interest in anyone’s possessions, belongings or money.”
Trusello has been at different senior care facilities since 2000, when he could no longer climb the stairs at home and needed extra help caring for himself, his daughter said.
He lived in two facilities in Niagara Falls – first, Heritage Manor Nursing Home, then Niagara Geriatric Center – before being moved to Kenwell in September, his daughter said.
“He frankly liked Kenwell, before this happened,” Trusello Snow said. “He was doing well.”
Trusello – who gets around with the use of a walker – started with a different roommate on the second floor of the building, but when he couldn’t get out quickly enough during a fire drill, he was moved into a room with Rusek, she said.
That was two months ago.
While investigators said they know of no problems between Trusello and Rusek, Trusello’s family is suspicious.
“I would be willing to bet there was a history on this individual,” Trusello Snow said. “I don’t believe this individual woke up one day and went seriously violent.”
Kenwell has declined to comment on the case, citing federal health privacy laws. The facility released a prepared statement Friday that said it was a licensed adult-care home that follows state regulations.
Trusello Snow said she hasn’t gotten many specifics from the facility either, but the state Health Department has opened an investigation.
“Something failed,” Trusello Snow said. “Something went wrong.”
The family first heard about the attack when Trusello’s other daughter, Mary – who lives in the area – stopped by Kenwell to visit her father that morning.
He already had been taken to the hospital, where Mary and Trusello’s sister have been visiting him since.
The blows from the magnet struck Trusello on his head, face, chest and wrist. All 10 fingers were broken, as were several ribs.
He uses a breathing tube in the hospital and is now on kidney dialysis as a result of his injuries from the assault, his daughter said.
“The next step for him will be to see if he recuperates enough to go into a skilled nursing facility for a period of time,” Trusello Snow said, “and then we’ll take it from there.”
She talked a little about her father.
One of five kids, Trusello was born and raised in Niagara Falls, and he served in the Army at the end of World War II.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Buffalo.
He loved to travel. During the summer months, Trusello took his wife and two daughters to places around the world, including England, France, India, Russia and Australia.
He and his siblings ran Trusello’s Bakery, the business that his father started in Niagara Falls in the 1920s.
In fact, she said, her father was the last Trusello to bake bread at the Niagara Falls fixture when it closed in the 1990s.
His wife, Ida, died in 1991, after the couple had been married more than 30 years.
As Trusello Snow makes plans to get to Buffalo, she is consumed by thoughts that so many others have while caring for their elderly parents.
“I wish there were more alternatives for people that are far away, or don’t have family close by, or who can’t afford the high-end, upscale assisted-living facility,” she said.