St. Jude connection sparks friendship

The story of Tranny Arnold and Arnie Schwartzman

Not a day goes by that Arnie Schwartzman doesn’t think about his son.

Jon would have been 32 years old this year. He might have been a lawyer, like his father, if circumstances had been different.

Jon and his family had come to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 1977 in the hopes of beating the disease. St. Jude had re-written the medical text book about Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), bringing the cure rate from 4 percent to 50 percent. It was Jon’s best chance at life. But it wasn’t enough. Jon lost his battle in 1979, before he would have the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps.

The care that Jon received in those two years would be a source of comfort for Arnie as he overcame his grief. He knew that the staff at St. Jude had done everything they could to save his son.

Meanwhile, another child survives his battle

In 1981, 9-month-old Tranny Arnold came to St. Jude. He had retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye, and his doctors thought St. Jude offered his best chance of survival.

But radiation and laser treatments failed to destroy the cancer. His family faced a choice. Let surgeons take their son’s left eye or the cancer would take his life. They, of course, chose the former. And it succeeded.

Tranny’s battle with cancer came so early in his life that he has no recollection of it. His earliest memories of St. Jude are of returning for yearly checkups. But his early battle has helped shaped a cancer-stricken infant into a man that anyone who meets comes to admire.

Arnie's path leads to Memphis

In 2000 Arnie began volunteering for the hospital that had tried desperately to save Jon. He became involved in a fund-raiser in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he again became familiar with St. Jude.

Soon after, he felt an urge to go back to Memphis. To go back and see the hospital that had been another home for his family more than 20 years before.

In 2001, Arnie returned. The campus was different, having grown tremendously since last he’d seen it. As he walked the brightly colored hallways, he recognized the look on the faces of parents: a blend of hope and fear.

But a new feeling swept Arnie, one of uplift and excitement. He knew that from this point on, he would work to ensure that the hospital’s mission would continue.

Tranny shares his success story

For many, fighting and beating cancer would be enough. But not for Tranny. His triumph over such a deadly disease seemed only to inspire the young man as he grew older. He graduated high school near the top of his class. He played junior high school basketball and five years of junior and senior high football. But for Tranny, what stood out the most was his election as vice president of his middle school. The election sparked a political interest for the young man.

“I might run for public office someday,” he says years later. “I’ve always wanted to serve my country and make it better, and I feel this would be a good way to fulfill that goal.”

Tranny continued his success. After graduation, he attended Georgetown University. He continued to stoke the fires of a political career by serving as an intern in the White House in late 2000. In 2002, he would cross the ocean and study at Oxford, meeting people from many different cultures and traveling Europe.

That same year he would also come back to Memphis to speak at the ALSAC St. Jude Convention, celebrating the hospital’s 40 years of success. Tranny was going to be speaking during a special segment featuring patients from each of the hospital’s four decades.

A friendship emerges

With his newfound inspiration, Arnie returned again to Memphis and St. Jude in 2002 for the 40th anniversary celebration. He sat in a crowded room at the Peabody Hotel and listened as four patients and their families told their stories about the hospital. Tranny was one of the speakers.

Arnie heard Tranny talk about all he had accomplished and how thankful he was for St. Jude and the people who support it. He heard Tranny talk about preparing to study abroad and to eventually attend law school. That resonated with Arnie.

After the event concluded, Arnie introduced himself to the family. A friendship was sparked. Tranny’s family and Arnie would talk throughout the year.

By the spring, Tranny was preparing to graduate with a double major in international business and accounting. He began setting his sights on law school. Tranny turned to Arnie for advice and counsel.

Arnie helped Tranny prepare for interviews and the essay questionnaires that law schools require.

“He’s presidential material,” says Arnie who has a daughter, Ellen, who is working on her PhD, and a step-son. “He will be a credit to any institution he attends. This is a young man I foresee making great accomplishments in any number of fields.”

After applying to a number of schools, Tranny finally settled on the one he thought would be a perfect fit for him: Vanderbilt University. It was a school that had not been on his short list until Arnie asked if he had considered it. Vanderbilt was where Arnie had earned his law degree years ago. But the more Tranny learned about the school, the more comfortable he felt with it. He knew it was the place for him to be.

“Arnie has a genuine concern for me and I appreciate that,” Tranny says. “I don’t know how to thank him. It is a testament to him that I am going to his old law school. God has a purpose and plan for everything.”


Last update: September 2003