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Bedbug infestation forces man, 70, from Buffalo home

Robert Lewis has no feeling in his legs because of a medical condition.

That turned the 70-year-old into a feast for bedbugs at his rented home in the Bailey-East Delavan neighborhood, authorities said.

Conditions in the house were so bad that when Lewis was removed from his longtime residence earlier this week, he was not even allowed to wear his own clothes or take his late mother’s ashes with him.

“We were told no one should be living in that house without a respirator,” said Lt. Steven J. Nichols, a Buffalo community policing supervisor. “He left with nothing, not even the clothes on his back. The property manager really stepped up and brought him a new set of clothes to wear and paid for a cab to take him to his temporary residence.”

The infestation of bedbugs and cockroaches was so severe that the 2½-story house may need three to four extermination treatments before a decision can be made on whether to take the extra step of gutting the interior to clean out the pests, an exterminator said.

Lewis, a former factory worker on disability, was placed in a temporary residence provided by Back to Basics Outreach Ministries on Tuesday.

In a modest bedroom at the East Side home for men in transition, the soft-spoken Lewis said diabetic nerve damage and other medical complications prevented him from knowing that small bedbugs were biting him.

“They got me in the calves,” said Lewis, who lived alone. “People don’t realize just how explosive this problem is with insect infestations until they attack you. I had to leave everything behind.”

The discovery of the infestation occurred when Peninsula Holdings, which recently purchased the home, received a request for a “repair” at the property. A nurse caring for Lewis submitted it.

Peninsula sent a representative from Dasa Properties, a local property management firm, to check on the situation at the home in the first block of Langmeyer Avenue last Thursday.

Besides the bedbugs, the house also was crawling with cockroaches, according to authorities and a Dasa official.

Based on the exterminator’s assessment, it was determined Friday that Lewis would have to leave.

Several local agencies had declined to assist Lewis, fearing the spread of the bedbugs, Nichols said, adding that Lewis has no relatives in the area.

Bedbugs are a growing national problem with hotels across the country, including in Manhattan, experiencing infestations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes bedbugs – brownish-red in color, flat and about a quarter-inch long – as an emerging public health issue.

“While bedbugs have not been shown to transmit disease, they do cause a variety of negative physical health and economic consequences,” according to a statement on the EPA’s website.

When a bedbug bites, it siphons blood from its prey for food.

The federal agency says allergic reactions to the bites can have “severe” side effects. And that’s not all. Bedbug bites can cause psychological problems, including anxiety and insomnia, for people living in infested homes, the EPA said.

Lewis, who had lived in the first-floor apartment of the two-family Langmeyer home for about two decades, said he was aware of a cockroach problem and would sometimes spray, but had no idea that there were bedbugs.

“I’m thinking the people who used to live in the upstairs apartment brought them in. I was told the bugs get into the walls of these old houses by crawling through electrical outlets,” said Lewis, sitting on his bed in his new temporary residence and within arm’s reach of a walker donated to him by a Dasa Properties staff member.

“I couldn’t even bring my own walker. There’s things I need from my apartment, personal things like old family photos, my bedroom outfit I bought in 1964 from Sattler’s when things were made really good, and my mother’s ashes,” Lewis said.

Once the house is rid of the pests, Nichols said the ashes from Lewis’ mother will be returned to him.

Theresa Ruggiero of Dasa Properties said she has set up a special bank account at First Niagara to accept donations to assist Lewis. The name of the account is “The Robert Lewis Fund.”

Back to Basics is accepting household goods and clothing on Lewis’ behalf, said the Rev. James E. Giles, president of the organization, located at 1370 William St.

“Mr. Lewis is an elderly gentleman who has fallen into a very, very unfortunate situation that has left him temporarily without a home, but Back to Basics and Buffalo Peacemakers have rallied services around him to help restore him to dignity,” Giles said. “We are making sure that he is adequately fed and taken to any doctor appointments he may need to get to.”

Here are the clothing sizes for the 6-foot, 350-pound Lewis: pants with a 54- to 56-inch waist, triple-extra-large shirts and 14 extra-wide shoes.

Ruggiero said Dasa also is trying to find Lewis a new home.

“At the time Peninsula purchased the property, it was unaware of the condition and when told, they immediately offered a $350 donation to go to Mr. Lewis,” Ruggiero said of the Toronto-based company.

In dealing with bedbugs, the National Pest Management Association recommends:

• Visual inspections in homes and offices to determine whether bedbugs are present before they spread. Certified professional detection companies will often use dogs for detection.

• When a bedbug is found, remedies such as fumigation should commence within 24 hours.

• Vacuuming is another way to eliminate clusters of bedbugs.

• In some cases, off-site fumigation for bedbugs is recommended for equipment, furniture and fixtures.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com