updated 05/06/2009 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/06/2009 AT 2:30 PM ET
Mariska Hargitay is back in the spotlight for the first time since being sidelined by a partially collapsed lung, and doing better than ever.
“I’m doing great,” Hargitay told PEOPLE at The Joyful Heart Foundation gala in New York City Tuesday. “I’m feeling so much better and I’m lucky because I’m really strong and recuperated pretty quickly.”
Hargitay, 45, who underwent surgery in January and checked back into the hospital on March 3, says her actor husband Peter Hermann, 41, and son August, 2, helped her push through the difficult period with their special type of medicine: humor.
“They made me laugh and they just loved me up,” the Law & Order: SVU star said. “My son enjoys to laugh like me.”
Luckily for the Emmy winner, her son is constant source of giggling and not experiencing the terrible twos. “I don’t know how I got so lucky,” she says. “Right now he’s becoming independent and exploring. He’s full of vitality and curiosity.”
What could possibly take her away from him for the evening? Her Joyful Heart Foundation, which she founded to raise awareness about sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and heal, educate and empower survivors.
“I didn’t set out to be an activist but I have the opportunity to teach young people what healthy relationship looks like and I have the ability to teach people and women how to be responsible and take care of each other,” she explains. “This is really important and we need it.”
The busy actress is able to juggle all of her responsibilities – and remain sane – thanks to Hermann, her husband of four years. “My amazing husband keeps me in check and keeps my priorities clear,” she says. “He keeps me focused and we figure it out.”