Diagnosed with a rare genetic eye condition, Thomas Rodier may be losing his sight, but he has certainly not lost his steely determination or zest for life. Passionate about raising awareness and determined to keep skateboarding through the streets, in just six months this young boy from the Côte d’Azur has raised almost half of his 100,000 euro fundraising target.

At home in the multi-coloured streets of Menton, Thomas Rodier began telling his story from the 28 November 2020: the day doctors told him he was going blind.

“I knew I couldn’t see very well, but I didn’t realise I was going blind,” explains the 20-year-old boy, originally from Nice, as he recalls the shock at discovering he had Retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

For years, despite sensitivity to light, difficulty with balance and often bumping into things, doctors overlooked what Thomas describes as “quite striking symptoms”. It took specialists 10 years to realise the cells in his retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, were slowly breaking down. As a result, he is now “90 to 95% blind”.

“Save my eyes”: a six-figure fundraiser

As the news settled in, the former engineering student wasted no time in trying to make the best of the situation. Hoping to gather enough money to fund two types of treatment, acupuncture in Switzerland and stem-cell therapy in the United States, he set up a fundraiser. Launched on the platform Leetchi, he created the campaign “Save my eyes” back in December 2020 with an ambitious 100,000-euro target.

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“I didn’t expect to raise this much,” he says, describing how grateful he is to the hundreds of donors, 654 to be exact, who have contributed so far. In the space of just six months, he has received 44,818 euros worth of donations. Whilst friends and family have made most of the contributions, he admits there was “a bit of luck involved” in having so much success.

It was like winning the lottery

Thomas Rodier

A kebab shop attracting celebrity attention

A bag full of posters and cards, when Thomas walks through the streets of Menton and Monaco, where most of the donations have come from, his fundraising material is almost always at hand.

Thanks to the support from local businesses, agreeing to display posters in their windows, the campaign has received some celebrity attention. After Charles Leclerc’s younger brother Arthur saw one of the posters in a local kebab shop, the fundraiser soared. Moved by Thomas’ situation, Charles posted about the 20-year old’s mission to his 4.7 million Instagram followers.

“For three or four days donations flooded in… it was like winning the lottery,” he smiles, turning to his friend Melvyn Maiarelli and laughing, the pair still in disbelief at how much progress the campaign has made. Over those few days they received 6,000 euros of donations and countless messages of support.

Thomas Rodier and his friend Melvyn Maiarelli © Meg Johnson / Monaco Tribune

YouTube: the future of the fundraiser

Friends since the age of 14, Melvyn and Thomas have now embarked on a new project together to spur the fundraiser along via YouTube. Having always had a passion for filming but discouraged by the “financial insecurity of the career”, as well as his parents’ disapproval, it was only after his diagnosis forced him to leave school that he could finally pursue his first love. Roping in Melvyn, the duo has so far posted two videos, clocking up several thousand views.

In a push to reach their 100,000-euro target, the boys are now working with big name YouTubers to spread the word. The first of their collaborations, yet to go live, is with Romain Monti: a French racing driver with over 100,000 subscribers and almost 40,000 Instagram followers.

Putting his engineering skills to use, Thomas designed a pair of glasses to mimic his vision, filming Romain Monti as he raced around the streets wearing them. “The left side is blurry… it’s like looking through a straw,” comment the boys. Melvyn was too afraid to wear them at the wheel. Watch out for the incoming video on Romain’s YouTube channel to find out what driving with 5% vision looks like when you are a racing driver.

“If we don’t succeed, we’ll die trying”

Unsurprised by his friend’s ambition, Melvyn never doubted that Thomas would succeed, both with his fundraiser and his filming. “Whatever he puts his mind to, he’ll make it happen, he never stops,” says Melvyn. Determined to do everything possible to reach his target, Thomas made his ambition clear from the start: “if we don’t succeed, we’ll die trying.”

An optimist delighted by the fundraiser’s success so far, he is already planning to “have a little party” to celebrate the 100,000 euro target he hopes to have smashed a year from now.

For more information about Thomas Rodier’s campaign, or to make a donation, click the link to his fundraiser or YouTube channel.