Doctors warned the Charlie's Angels star that she would get "gangrene and die" if they did not operate after a horrific crash
Kelly Lynch‘s motto is to leave the world better than she found it, but that positive outlook came from a very dark time in her life.
The Charlie’s Angels star was just 20 when she was involved a terrible car crash that came close to killing her. Lynch was severely injured when she was hit head-on on a Minnesota freeway, shattering her femurs and thigh bones.
The doctors wanted to amputate both her legs, threatening that she would “get gangrene and die” otherwise.
“I can’t tell you how horrible it was,” the actress, 60, told PEOPLE at Asprey London’s Afternoon Tea and Bollinger Champagne Soirée in aid of This Is About Humanity at The Beverly Hills Hotel.
“I was an athlete, I was a state champion swimmer, I was a dancer. I always thought, ‘My intelligence is in my body,’ so if that was going to be taken away from me, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Fortunately, her mother stopped the surgeon from amputating her daughter’s legs and was determined to find someone who could help.
Lynch explained to PEOPLE that eventually she found “a fantastic surgeon — he put two small incisions in both of my hips and all this mechanical stuff down my legs, and slowly I started to walk again.”
Her legs do sometimes still hurt, and she can’t fully bend her knees, but she proudly adds that it didn’t stop her from performing her own stunts on the 2000 film Charlie’s Angels.
“After the accident, everything was a gift,” she says. “Someone gave me a second chance, and I didn’t want to let my mother down. I tried to make every day since then a great day, and I think my religion is leaving things better than I found them.”
RELATED VIDEO: Lauren Scruggs Kennedy On Her Near-Death Experience: ‘It Made Me a Deeper Person’
One way she applies that in her daily life is by picking up trash in her local Los Angeles neighborhood.
“I walk my little miniature blonde long-haired dachshund named Ram, and we bring bags with us and clean up garbage. That’s what I can do. I do it every day, and almost everything I pick up is a hundred percent recyclable.”
Lynch may be a Hollywood star, but it’s clear she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty in an effort to make the world a better place, and she adds that she even picks up the “weird stuff.”
“I once found things that a woman of the night had left behind. I picked them up in my surgical gloves, my husband screamed, ‘Don’t touch it!’ I’m like, ‘I’m protected, but this is not going to be here.'”
She once even cleared a whole beach with friend and fellow actor Billy Baldwin.
“A bunch of plastic had washed up in Martha’s Vineyard on this beautiful stretch of beach — he looked at me and said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ I was like ‘Of course! I’m a garbage collector!’ He went and got a bunch of VR bags, we separated things that could be recycled, and we collected 60 bags of garbage. The beach was beautiful at the end.”
Lynch’s trash-collecting is just one of the ways she applies her golden rule of leaving the world better than she found it to her daily life.
That rule is also what inspired her to collaborate with Asprey and host an event in aid of This Is About Humanity, an organization that aims to help children, separated families, refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers at the U.S. Mexico border in Tijuana.
It’s an issue she feels a personal connection to.
“I’m an Irish immigrant, my family’s Irish,” she said. “We’re a country of immigrants, so for us to be doing what we’re doing right now is appalling.’
And she’s a huge fan of Asprey’s jewelry — she picked out a gold pendant from the Asprey Matchstriker Collection to wear to the event.