Antoine Verglas/Courtesy of Redbook
07/09/2009 AT 03:00 PM EDT
The collapsed lung
that sent Mariska Hargitay from the set of Law & Order: SVU
to the hospital last October involved emotional as well as physical wounds the 45-year-old carries from childhood.
In 1967, at age 3, Hargitay was asleep in the backseat of a car that crashed and killed her 34-year-old mother, '50s sex symbol Jayne Mansfield. "Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul," Hargitay, speaking for the first time in detail about her injuries, tells the August issue of Redbook
. "But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today."
What Hargitay remembers of her recent injury was landing wrong while "doing a stunt chasing a bad guy." The moment she hit the crash pad, she sensed something was wrong. "At first I thought I had the wind knocked out of me."
Angry with herself over what had happened, Hargitay simply ignored the injury, thinking it would improve by itself. Three months later, she knew much better, due to "chest pains and shortness of breath." Her grandfather, like her mother, had died at age 34 – in his case, of a heart attack. "Then," said a relieved Hargitay, "someone pointed out that my heart was on the other side!"
Further problems arose when a sharp pain hit her on New Year's Day, "sort of like someone stabbed me. I went down on one knee and just couldn't catch my breath."
An X-ray revealed her right lung was 50 percent collapsed. "I began to panic," she said. "I was so scared." A medical procedure was performed to stave off more serious surgery – which arrived two weeks later anyway.
Though assured she was now in fine shape after recovering, "on March 5, it happened again. I was one out of 1,000, statistically."
For the sake of her son August
(born June 28, 2006), Hargitay thought, "I had so much to lose, so much to live for … I have so many blessings, and I've learned from all of my experiences and my losses."
Having learned at a tender age that tragedy can be a part of life, Hargitay says, "I look at all the things life has allowed me to do and I feel like the luckiest person in the world."