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May 11, 1997

Chat group rallies
around friend in crisis

By Timothy C. Barmann

Word spread quickly in the Internet chat group that Al Tressler had suffered a massive heart attack.

Tressler founded the "60+bunch" chat room, a place where a group of 50- and 60-year-olds meet everyday to talk to each other by typing messages back and forth.

Now they were all talking about Tressler -- "Al1" to his online friends -- who was not expected to make it through the night.

<usmc> al1 has had heart attack
<Rainbow44> oh geez
<vandamm> yes jeanette we will be praying dutifully
<usmc> not expected to live the night
<Rainbow44> really usmc?
<usmc> yes his sister was just here and told us
<Rainbow44> I have only talked to him a couple of times -- and as with the rest of you -- found him so nice -- I'm very sad for my new friend
<Golden1> he will be sorely missed so we must Pray hard for his life to be spared

Connie Poitras of Warwick, is a frequent participant in the 60+bunch group. She's a former bookkeeper for a North Kingstown glass company. At age 62, she's retired and her medical conditions keep her indoors most of the time.

She sent me e-mail because she wanted others to know what happened after Tressler's tragedy.

"We've heard so many bad stories coming from the Net, but this one, I feel, is really unique," she wrote.

Being house-bound, Poitras found she could travel around the world through the Internet, and now she's hooked. She spends most of her time online chatting with friends she has never met. They live all over the U.S. -- California, Florida, Montana, Colorado, Ohio, Texas -- and even overseas -- Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

They discuss their families, their health and the weather. They even had an online "pajama party" which met at 8 one morning. ("Remember this is the 60s bunch," Poitras said. "They don't have big parties at night.")

The 60+bunch is where Poitras met Al Tressler, 60, who founded the group last August. She immediately felt welcome thanks to Tressler who was helpful and supportive as she learned the ropes of online chatting. Poitras was impressed with the friendly nature of the group and with Tressler's rules for those participating: no foul language or rudeness.

On April 1, Tressler and many of the regulars were exchanging April Fools stories and talking about the snow storm that hit the Northeast.

It was that night that Tressler suffered a massive heart attack in the bathroom of his home in Selinsgrove, Pa., about 50 miles north of Harrisburg.

Tressler's condition was not good. He was airlifted from a community hospital to a larger one. There, his heart stopped three separate times. Each time, electric paddles were used to revive him. They left burn marks on his chest.

Meanwhile, his online friends kept a vigil going for him.

<vandamm> Pray with us rainbow for his recovery
<Rainbow44> already doing so vandamm
<HapELife> I just feel terrible
<vandamm> God answers prayer so lets all join hands and pray here

And that's what they did. As people logged into the chat room and learned of Tressler's tragedy, they prayed for his recovery. Even people from a Christian chat room joined the prayer.

Tressler clung onto life. His lungs had filled with fluid but finally, after three days, he regained consciousness. His recovery surprised even his doctor.

"I've never seen a guy come out of it like this," the doctor told him.

Tressler, who spoke by phone this week about his experience, said he had no idea that his Internet friends had been pulling for him until he saw the cards and faxes that flooded into his room in the cardiac intensive care unit.

A Navy veteran who was once stationed on a ship out of Quonset Point, Tressler had never seen an outpouring of support like this.

There was a fax from Australia, a phone call from Montana. Cards came from Cleveland, Singapore, Hong Kong. More than 100 people wrote, some of whom Tressler had never heard from before.

"I was surprised that there were that many people who really cared."

Tressler continues to recover at home and is on nine different heart medications. His heart has lost some of its capacity and next week, he'll take a test to determine whether he needs open-heart surgery.

But he's thankful he's alive. Tressler said he's not religious, but he's convinced that his Internet friends played a key role in bringing him back from the brink of death.

"If I didn't believe in that man up there, I wouldn't be alive. Him and those people who were down here working with him. I didn't know the power of prayer could do that."

Eight days after his heart attack, "Al1" returned to the 60+bunch, much to the delight of his friends.

<dean9> Good news al1 is back on channel.
<mandm> yesssssssss
<Rhoda> hey al1.......its good to see your happy face around here again
<al1> not out of the woods yet mandm....joan wants you to call
<Golden1> :)
<mandm> ok
<Golden1> it is good news
<Rhoda> now it seems like home again !!!
<Golden1> YESSSSS

Computer calendar

May 20 -- MR Computer Services of Middletown will demonstrate Access 97 at the PC Users Group meeting at 7 p.m. in the East Conference Room of the Community College of Rhode Island, Warwick campus. General question and answer session begins at 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Louis Stein at 739-2810, send e-mail to louisstein@aol.com or see the group's Web site at http://ids.net/~louissn/ribcs.html.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.