By HAYLEY FITZPATRICK, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Melissa Gilbert is opening up about her recovery following her “life-altering” spinal surgery in November.
The actress, 56, who has struggled with neck and back injuries for almost 20 years, revealed last month that her doctor was able to give her an artificial disc instead of a fusion for her latest surgery.
Almost three weeks post-surgery, Gilbert said she is feeling “really good.”
“I turned a bit of a corner this past weekend,” she told Good Morning America on Tuesday.
“I just kind of had achy soreness and I woke up after a nice shoulder rub from my husband on Saturday,” she continued. “I woke up Sunday morning and I had sort of leapt forward in my recovery and that’s kind of what the doctor told me. He said two weeks and then four weeks and then three months, and it has been really extraordinary this process and this recovery.”
Gilbert, who rose to fame as Laura Ingalls Wilder, aka “Half-Pint,” on Little House on the Prairie, had her first spinal fusion surgery in her neck in 2001 after an injury, her second spinal surgery after breaking her back in 2010 and her third fusion surgery in 2016.
Two herniated discs in her spine — caused by head and neck injuries in 2012 — led to her third surgery, she previously told People. She sustained one of those injuries while competing on Dancing With the Stars in 2012, she said.
In November, Gilbert revealed that third surgery had “failed.”
“It didn’t fuse and so I had all of this pain, and apparently the hardware was boring holes in my vertebra above and below,” Gilbert said about her third surgery.
She opted to go with the doctor who did her first spinal surgery, Dr. Robert Bray at DISC Sports & Spine Center in Newport Beach, for her most recent surgery.
“The thing that was different about this surgery was Dr. Bray went in and took out a lot of the hardware — and the hardware that didn’t work — and I got an artificial disc, which is very cutting edge,” she explained. “It’s been around for awhile, but it is so new and revolutionary, it now set me up so that I probably, most likely, will not have any more spine problems going up and down from now on.”
The actress was channeling her famous Little House on the Prairie character’s strength for her fourth surgery, as Laura was “the one who believes anything is possible,” Gilbert has said in the past.
Gilbert also explained what precautions she took to fly to California for the surgery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had to fly cross-country and before surgery, have tests to get on a plane, have tests before the surgery, make sure I was negative, have the surgery, have another test,” she shared, adding that she wore a mask, face shield, gloves and was “so careful” throughout her trip.
Since speaking out, Gilbert said she’s received so much support from fans, which she said has been “really moving.”
“What has really opened my eyes and made me feel like I made the right choice in going public with all this is all of the people who are suffering from similar issues and chronic pain issues and spine issues who say, ‘I’m so glad to hear your story, it gives me hope,’ or ‘I’ve been through this and I’m on the other side of this, and it really is miraculous and congratulations,"” she noted.
“That’s been a real driver for me and made this process that much more incredible,” she added.
The actress is grateful for her health, as her family is currently growing. She has a grandchild coming in June.
“I really want to be as strong and healthy as I can be, so I can race in there and squeeze that baby and just grab it and do everything they need me to do — all the laundry, all the cooking, whatever I can do to help,” she said of assisting her son Dakota and his wife with their newborn.
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