"I'll go to the cardiologist and everyone there's at least 30 years older. I'm going, 'This isn't fair. Why me?' It's given me a different perspective on a lot of things."
The former Frankford High School all-stater and Penn State All-America wasn't much over his playing weight of about 200 pounds. In his case, it didn't matter.
"I wasn't a workout fanatic, but I stayed in good shape," said Thomas, who lives in King of Prussia with his second wife, Lisa, and their 6-year-old son, Preston. "I see most running backs when they're done and they're all blown up. You'll go to a convention and say, 'Man, what position did you play?' They look like a defensive tackle. I was never going to be that guy.
"If you see me, you think I could still play."
Nonetheless, on May 27 his life would begin to change. In a profound way, even though he didn't realize it at first. Actually, nobody did. The initial incident just seemed like some kind of freakish speed bump.
Three months and several procedures later, he's still out on short-term disability from his full-time job as a commercial salesman. But he has been fitted with a defibrillator, and plans to resume leading a regular existence for as long as "the man upstairs" allows.
"He just decided it wasn't my time yet," Thomas insists.
Yet on that day in late May, as he was doing chores around the house to get it ready for his son's birthday party, he was sent a warning sign. Merely the first, as it turned out. He thought it was nothing more than dehydration, when he lost his balance not once but twice within the span of an hour.
"I was nervous," he admitted. "I knew it was something unusual, but it didn't seem that bad. The day before I had to take three showers, I was doing so much work outside."
He went to a hospital, where he was given three IVs and underwent a catheterization. Thomas was told that he did have some plaque buildup but it wasn't enough to be "concerned" about.
A week later, he was driving to Williamsport when he blacked out heading west on I-80 while talking with his wife on the phone. His car ended up against the guardrail. Thomas ended up in another hospital, where once again they couldn't find anything wrong.
"The guardrail, in my opinion, saved me," said Thomas, who also has two children - 22-year-old Blair and 19-year-old LaKeisha - from his first marriage. "It kind of knocked my heart back into rhythm. That's why I know God was looking over me. I'm here for a reason, to tell this story.
"It happened on a straightaway, not a turn. As windy as that road is, I could've gone into a tree or ended up in a ditch. It was close to rush hour, but I looked out the rearview mirror and the only thing I saw was an 18-wheeler that looked to be about 2 miles back. It could've been right behind me. All that stuff goes through your mind.
"As I think back on the whole process, somebody was trying to tell my body something."
The following Thursday the voices became deafening. Thomas already had a stress test scheduled. He didn't have to wait for the results to know for sure that he had a significant problem.
"It felt like my heart started racing a little bit," he recalled. "I started taking two deep breaths in, four out, to relax. My wife heard me, asked if I was OK. I told her, 'I don't know. I feel hot.' So she got me a cold pack. I'm trying to get a heart rate, to see what my pulse was, but it's going so fast I couldn't find it. Now I'm starting to feel a little tightness in my chest. Pretty soon I'm in an ambulance talking with the paramedics."
By the time they got him to Bryn Mawr Hospital, his heart rate was ranging from 240 to 260 beats per minute. His blood pressure was "60-something" over 40.
"They couldn't believe it," Thomas said. "And they couldn't get me out of that for about 40 minutes. They couldn't believe I was still conscious. I closed my eyes to concentrate on my breathing and they went, 'Stay with us!' I said, 'I ain't going nowhere.'
"There's probably 10, 15 nurses around me. They were putting this stuff and that into my IV, trying to get my heart rate down. Finally, they did. They said that I had some blockages, and looking at the EKG they said I was in V-tach [ventricular tachycardia]. So they called in a cardiac team to put two stents in my heart."
A few days later he was back in to have the damaged areas of his heart ablated.
"From what I understand, years ago this would've taken me out," he said. "I would've been a walking time bomb. There was nothing they could do for you.
"They just started doing that technique at Bryn Mawr relatively recently."
Not long after that, he received his defibrillator.
"What it does is, if your heart goes out of rhythm, it tries to pace you back," Thomas said. "It if can't, then it shocks you and saves your life."
As he found out.
"About a month later, I wasn't feeling good, and my wife said, 'OK, your defibrillator will pace you back into rhythm,' " Thomas remembered. "Then it shocked me, and I'm sprawled out on the floor. I don't go unconscious. I'm still awake on the ground telling her everything's OK.
"I call my doctor, and they want me to come in to [check] the unit, because the first time it goes off it's not uncommon for another arrhythmia to pop up. He thought he'd gotten all of them, but there was a new one. So they changed the parameters to a wider range, so I have some backup and insurance. They also changed my medication."
Depending upon the frequency of its use, his unit could last a decade or so before the battery needs to be changed.
His mother Barbara suffered the first of her two heart attacks 24 years ago, when she was 52 and drove herself to the hospital. He said doctors aren't sure if he had a "silent" heart attack within the last 10 years, but the New England Patriots had him undergo further testing in 1994 after an EKG came back "irregular."
"I got released shortly after that," he said. "I don't know if that was one of the reasons, but I got picked right up by Dallas. So I figured it couldn't have been too bad."
Now he wants others to understand that nobody's bulletproof.
He has altered his diet completely, to include only fish and plant-based foods, and feels more energetic. Yet his family continues to check on him, "like every 2 seconds." In another 6 months he expects to be cleared for all activities.
In the meantime . . .
"Every day is a blessing," Thomas said. "It's almost like whenever I'm talking with someone now, I'm drawn into telling them what happened to me. We've got to educate people to be more aware of how they take care of themselves.
"Everyone can do more. Get checked. Know your numbers. Don't just be happy with wanting your blood pressure to be 120 over 80. Get it down. Same with your cholesterol count, even if it's borderline good. If I would've had better habits, maybe the things I had would never have developed.
"I just know I won't think about it the same way ever again."
Hopefully, for a very long time.