Benjamin Morrison honors his sisters memory, raises money for Fanconi anemia research

Whatever Nina Morrison’s older brother Benjamin did — acrobatics, Taekwondo, soccer, you name it — the little girl wanted to do.

“She loved anything and everything he did,” said her mother, Rachel Altmann. “She was pure joy and love.”

Born with a host of medical issues, Nina weighed less than most 4-month-olds when she turned 1 in 2004. Her health problems caused developmental delays and numerous hospital trips, and at age 2, she weighed only 14 pounds.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RACHEL ALTMANN - Nina Morrison died at age 3 from Fanconi anemia in 2006.

Perplexed, Nina’s family met with one of the most respected genetic researchers at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Dr. Markus Grompe, in January 2005, hoping to find answers for what caused her ailments.

They were stunned to learn their vibrant toddler had Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic blood disorder that leads to bone marrow failure, leukemia or other cancers.

After her diagnosis, a group of moms who had met Nina at the Gresham Library’s story time organized a fundraiser to help with Nina’s medical costs and raise money for the Eugene-based Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.

Later they held a book drive in Nina’s memory, with books donated to children at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Nina died in 2006 from Fanconi anemia, but Benjamin continues to honor his sister’s memory and raise awareness about the disease with the annual Chess For Fanconi Anemia Benefit Tournament.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RACHEL ALTMANN - Benjamin Morrison, a junior at Corbett High School, started a chess tournament to benefit Fanconi anemia research in memory of his sister, Nina. His mother, Rachel Altmann, has helped with the past three benefits.

The fourth annual benefit will take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Corbett School’s Multipurpose Room, 35800 E. Columbia River Highway, and is open to any chess player in kindergarten through 12th grade.

A suggested donation of $10 is requested per player ($15 at the door), with proceeds from the tournament and concession benefiting the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund. Typical chess tournament registration is $20 or more.

“Nina had a cheerful disposition, and nothing brought her down,” Benjamin said. “I’m hoping (the tournament) will bring the fund a little bit closer to a cure for all the hundreds of kids who have Fanconi anemia.”

Benjamin, a junior at Corbett High School, began the tournament in middle school when he was assigned a community service project. A chess player since age 6, he thought raising funds through a chess tournament to fight Fanconi anemia would be a fitting project.

“They were really close for being six years apart in age,” Altmann said. “She adored him, and he adored her.”

After raising between $500 and $1,000 the past three years, Benjamin has a goal to raise upwards of $1,000 this year for the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RACHEL ALTMANN - More than 20 students, half from Corbett and half from other communities, have gathered the past three years for a chess tournament benefiting Fanconi anemia research.

Founded in 1989 by former University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer and his wife, Lynn, the fund raises money for medical research and family support. The couple was moved to create the fund after losing two daughters, Katie and Kirsten, to the disease. A third daughter, Amy, continues to battle Fanconi anemia.

Another benefit for Fanconi anemia, the ninth annual 5K, 8K and 12 K Valentine Run and Walk, will take place at 8 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, along the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

The benefit was started by Peg Padden, a mother who lost her oldest son to Fanconi anemia and whose younger son battles the disease. Her family was one of the first Altmann and her family connected with when Nina was diagnosed.

Registration is available online at through Tuesday, Feb. 5, and the day of the event. Also at the run, participants can be tested to get on a bone marrow registry for free.

“Nina was a darling and bright light in the world,” Padden said. “Benjamin was a wonderful older brother and continues to be.”

For more information about Fanconi anemia, visit To learn more about the tournament, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Benjamin wished to thank Corbett School and local businesses — Jazzy Bagels, SwissSys, Cold Stone Creamery Gresham, Off The Charts Games and Wall Street Pizza — for their donations to the tournament.

If you go

What: The fourth annual Chess for Fanconi Anemia Benefit Tournament for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The tournament will be NWSRS-rated and an OSCF state qualifier, and there will be prizes for the top players.

When: Saturday, March 2. Check-in is at 9 a.m., with the tournament running until 2:30 p.m.

Where: Corbett School Multi-purpose Building, 35800 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, Corbett.

Cost: Suggested donation $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

Pizza and other concessions will be for sale at the tournament, with all proceeds going to the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.

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