‘For my daughter’: Man finds strength on Mother’s Day weeks after wife dies in sledding crash

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(KTLA) — A family is turning grief into hope after a weekend trip to California’s San Gabriel Mountains in February changed their lives.

The trip took a dramatic turn on Feb. 4 when all three members of the family crashed head-first into a boulder, leaving the mother dead and the 4-year-old daughter in the intensive care unit.

The family had gone sledding in the area of Mount Baldy to celebrate their daughter’s birthday in the snow.

The mother, identified by her loved ones as Lisa Mao, “took the brunt of the impact while trying her best to shield her husband and daughter” and died shortly after the impact, the family said in a GoFundMe.

“Pretty much right away, I was told that my wife was dead,” said Dahveed Kolodny-Nagy, of Alhambra, as he recalled the events of that day. “I was told my daughter is in critical [condition] and it sounded like she most likely won’t survive. And I was beside myself with grief.”

He said their toddler, Nova, suffered head and internal injuries, a broken arm and was in a medically induced coma for weeks. He said her brain was “damaged in four different places.”

Nova Kolodny-Nagy, 4, receives treatment at a hospital after sustaining injuries to her head and body in a sledding incident with her parents on Feb. 4, 2021. Her mother, Lisa Mao, died shortly after the accident. (Courtesy of the Kolodny-Nagy family)
Nova Kolodny-Nagy, 4, at a hospital after sustaining injuries to her head and body in a sledding incident with her parents on Feb. 4, 2021. (Courtesy of Dahveed Kolodny-Nagy)

Kolodny-Nagy said he was able to call for help after the crash and get his wife and daughter airlifted to a hospital.

“There was bruises all over [Nova], and there was no way I could call it quits,” the father said.

After weeks in pain and loss, the family is turning grief into hope, strength and gratitude as they count their blessings while continuing to fight on.

“I had to be strong, and I had to fight,” Kolodny-Nagy said. “My daughter, she’s so strong and she’s such a fighter just like her mom, so I had to be there for my daughter.”

The girl is still recovering from her injuries but is now in stable condition after multiple surgeries and spending weeks in the hospital. Kolodny-Nagy said he’s hoping his daughter makes a full recovery.

Lisa Mao, 34, died from her injuries in a sledding accident on Feb. 4, 2021. (Courtesy of Dahveed Kolodny-Nagy)

“As a father, I am always looking for big dramatic moments. My daughter’s first word. Her first steps. Nova’s improvements are so gradual that even watching them with a microscope I am bound to miss something,” Kolodny-Nagy wrote last month about his daughter’s progress. “But that doesn’t make them any less significant.”

While the 34-year-old mother and wife is no longer with the family, her presence is still felt by all those who knew her.

“This is the first Mother’s Day that I don’t have my wife, and Nova’s mom, on my side,” Kolodny-Nagy told KTLA. “My message to you guys watching this is, be grateful for the blessings in your life. None of us know how long we have each other, so take advantage of that time.”

The family has raised more than $74,000 as of Monday morning on a GoFundMe account. They say the donations have been going to Nova’s hospital expenses and that some will go toward Lisa Mao’s funeral, which is set for June 25.

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