METAIRIE, La. -- Saints veteran tight end Dave Thomas struggled in the past year with activities as natural as playing outside with his young boys.
A pair of concussions during the 2011 NFL season left him so sensitive to light that even sunglasses weren't much help.
And when his infant daughter cried, his wife, Kassidy, would whisk her away so the noise would not worsen her husband's symptoms.
If Thomas had to make a choice between family and football, it would be the former. For now, however, he is back to training and practicing vigorously, drawing praise from coaches and teammates -- thanks to a compromise that allowed him to pursue a comeback with some piece of mind.
Thomas asked his wife to take part in every doctor's visit, to join him on trips from coast to coast as he sought out a half-dozen top neurological specialists for opinions on whether it was safe to get back on the field.
"It was important for me to, every time I spoke with the doctor, have her listen in and ask questions of her own, because the last thing I wanted was to come back and her not be comfortable and her be worried about me," Thomas said. "It was important for her to be involved with the whole process because it doesn't just affect me. It affects her and it affects our kids. We just had to really listen to each other and listen to the doctors and just work together and trust each other."
Kassidy Thomas first met her husband in eighth grade in Lubbock, Texas, and they started dating when they were juniors in high school. By now, she knows the seventh-year NFL pro out of Texas well enough to notice changes in him, be it an increased frequency of headaches or unusual mood swings -- both symptoms of concussions.
She notices things that her husband does not notice about himself, and she said that neurologists routinely questioned her even more than her husband about his symptoms.
"I feel like they received even more information by us going in together. There were things he hadn't noticed, such as irritability," Kassidy Thomas said. "It meant a lot to me that he was including me. It meant a lot that he was putting our family first, that he was willing to walk away if that was best."
Thomas' first concussion of 2011 occurred when the Saints hosted Houston in late September. While being spun around, he took a heavy helmet-to-helmet hit. Doctors ruled him unfit to return to the game, and he wound up sidelined for six weeks.
His next concussion came in his second game back at Atlanta. Kassidy Thomas stayed home with the kids, watching on TV, and when she stepped away to put the kids in bed for a nap, she heard the cellphone ring tone she had assigned to calls received from her husband, and knew immediately that something was wrong.
The second concussion was minor compared to the first, but the Saints decided to put Thomas on injured reserve for the remainder of the season, leaving Thomas and his wife to wonder if he had made a mistake coming back last season, or if he would ever play again.
"It was hard to think about not" playing again, Thomas said. "But I found comfort in my family and my faith, knowing that whatever happened, if I was done, that I had a family to come home to who loved me and great opportunities after football."
Kassidy Thomas did not want her husband exposed to undue risks, but knew he loved football and wanted to take a rational and fair-minded approach.
"I did not want him to stop living his life as long as he was medically cleared," she said. "I've had so many women say, 'How are you not bothering him? How are you not falling apart?' But I knew how seriously he was taking it. Being included in all of those conversations (with doctors) and getting to voice how I felt, when he decided to go back on the field I was confident for him. I trusted that he had done things the right way. I trusted we had sought out the best information and he was making an informed decision."
The Saints are thrilled to have Thomas back. Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham said Thomas is not only the unquestioned veteran leader of the tight ends, but one of the people most looked up to on the whole team.
"Having him back is awesome," Graham said. "His leadership is definitely needed right now."
Thomas arrived in New Orleans in 2009, helping the Saints win their only Super Bowl with his versatility, sound blocking and knack for making clutch catches. He has filled in at fullback when needed, and coaches say he knows the assignments of numerous positions on the offense.
"I'm not so sure that he is not on the verge of brilliant when it comes to being a football player," assistant head coach Joe Vitt said.
Vitt added that if younger players on the Saints aren't paying close attention to Thomas, "then they are stupid. They shouldn't be here. He is the epitome of a professional."
He is also, according to Kassidy Thomas, the epitome of a good father and husband.
"I feel like he's taken every precaution necessary," Kassidy Thomas said. "I have full faith he's going to go out there and be fine and have a great season, and I'm really excited for him and really looking forward to it."