Before she ever got sick, was valedictorian, graduated college with honors, reacquainted herself with the man who would become the love of her life or, against the odds, completed medical school, Anna Woodall Hudson was the student in Darlene Williford's fifth-grade class who looked out for everyone else.
"She was a 10-year-old tiny, petite little girl, bubbly personality; even then she was destined to help other people," says Williford. "She'd finish her work, do it well, and then help others. And not just her friends. She would help anyone."
Woodall Hudson expected perfection from herself. She went on to set and meet goals that would have seemed impossible after developing a severe autoimmune disease as a teenager. And while that eventually contributed to her death, it also helped her excel at one of the things she most wanted: to be a doctor.
Woodall Hudson was 30 and halfway through her family medicine residency when she died in September.
"She particularly wanted to be a doctor after becoming sick," said her father, Hal Woodall, himself a physician. "She wanted to be the kind of doctor who made patients feel comfortable, who responded to the patient's feelings."
"She definitely saw the medical career as a calling," said her husband, Keith Hudson. "She saw herself going through all she had gone through to be able to help other people in those situations as well."
The youngest of three daughters, Woodall Hudson grew up in Kenly and excelled academically, with a near-photographic memory and a love for taking the real thing.
"She was our family picture-taker. It was very important to her that she chronicle our family in photographs," said her mother, Sara Woodall.
In her junior year at North Johnston High School, she became ill with alarming symptoms: extreme fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea and hives. Tests showed life-threatening abnormalities in her blood.
Not all the physicians they encountered were thoughtful or sympathetic to the young woman whose worries should have been about prom and SATs. It wasn't until she was seen by a specialist at UNC Children's Cancer Center who understood the human side of her illness and communicated with her about it that she felt understood, her mother said.
A combination of medicines allowed her to return to high school and continue on to UNC-Chapel Hill. During this time, she ran into Keith Hudson at a high school basketball game. He'd been a year ahead of her at North Johnston. They began dating and were married in June 2003. That fall Woodall Hudson began classes at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, but within a couple of years her fragile health began to worsen.
The symptoms returned and became more complex. When she was too sick to go to class, her father would attend for her and take notes. When she was dehydrated but needed to see patients, she either retreated to a private area to give herself fluids or wore a portable pump and saline pack, which kept her hydrated through a port in her arm.
"You never heard her complain," said Daniel Becerra, a colleague during her residency. Her example is burned on the hearts of those who worked with her, Becerra said, both because of her perseverance and the way she treated patients.
"She provided a new level of care," he said. "She set that level extremely high, and we're all striving for that."
'Dove into your heart'
Despite her illness, she remained methodical and organized. On her geriatric rotation, Woodall Hudson worked with Sara Kalies, a physician's assistant in training.
Woodall Hudson and Kalies clicked professionally and also enjoyed watching the Food Network together, tweaking menus to accommodate Woodall Hudson's allergies.
"She just kind of dove into your heart and found the words. She seemed to enjoy normal life outside of the world of being sick," Kalies said.
In October 2009 came a cancer diagnosis; Woodall Hudson's autoimmune condition and its treatment had left her vulnerable to it. The malignancy, along with the aggressive treatment, were more than her body could battle. Their families rallied around the couple, and those who know them say Woodall Hudson and her husband relied more than ever on their faith - he is a minister - without questioning their circumstances.