ODU student dies in Peruvian jungle

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The mother of an Old Dominion University student, and Virginia Beach native, said he died this week while on a pre-med internship in Peru.

Damian Deshawn Wilkins, 19, was a rising junior at ODU, where he was a resident assistant and double-majored in pre-med and psychology. He was studying medicine for tropical climates when he had a heart attack Tuesday evening and died in a heavily forested area in Northeastern Peru.

Wilkins was taking part in a summer program with the Tropical Pathology and Infectious Disease Association. The organization’s website says its program includes an “an intense eight-day medical internship” in various aspects of medicine in the tropics.

His mother, Richell Dabney, remembers her son as a standout both on and off the ODU campus.

“He was an extremely intelligent, compassionate and caring young man,” Dabney said. “Everyone loved him no matter where he went and they admired his intellect. All of his professors loved and respected him and his friends admired him.”

Dabney said she’s frustrated with the process of getting her son’s body back to Hampton Roads for burial.

The State Department has several regulations that must be satisfied before the remains of a family member who dies abroad can be returned home. They include the following: a consular mortuary certificate in English, translated from the local death certificate; an affidavit from the foreign funeral director and transit permit; documentation on whether the body has been embalmed; documentation on whether the cause of death was a communicable disease.

Dabney said it will be five to seven business days before Wilkins’ body can be returned to Virginia Beach. 10 On Your Side has reached out to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Ambassador to Peru, and Senator Tim Kaine’s office on her behalf.

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