Melissa Gilbert Feels 'Great' After Spinal Surgery, Will Not 'Live My Life from a Place of Fear'

The former Little House on the Prairie star opens up to PEOPLE about recovering from her most recent operation

Melissa Gilbert is on the mend following her most recent spinal surgery — her fourth one.

The former Little House on the Prairie star, 56, recently revealed to fans that she had to have another surgery after learning that her third spinal fusion in 2016 had failed. This time, Gilbert's doctor opted to use an artificial disc rather than perform another fusion.

After sharing her story with fans on Instagram, Gilbert spoke to PEOPLE about her experience and recovery.

"I feel great. It's kind of remarkable. Well, no, it is actually truly remarkable that just five days after this really intense surgery, I'm feeling great," Gilbert tells PEOPLE. "I'm not taking any pain medication except for Advil, and I haven't taken any at all today. The last Advil I took was last night before bed. No opioids, no muscle relaxers needed. It's miraculous."

"Now, it's all going to be about staying still and not pushing, because I feel so good," she says. "I don't want to mess anything up. So I have to be very, very careful."

Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert. Melissa Gilbert

Gilbert first knew something was wrong with her fusion when she started to have "numbness and tingling in the three middle fingers on my right hand," she says.

"I always had this sort of constant hum of, I can't describe it other than the sort of low hum of ache," she explains. "There was just an ache. Every once in a while, my whole neck would just lock up. It would tense up or flare-up, and I would be unable to turn my head right or left or lift my head up. If I was laying down, I would have to use my hands and have help going from laying down to a sitting up position."

According to her surgeon, Dr. Rob Bray, the plastic device used in her 2016 fusion had started to "erode into the bony vertebral body above and below causing a great deal of inflammatory response and breakdown."

"It had to be causing her tremendous pain," he tells PEOPLE. "I removed her old plate... [that] I had put in years ago as the new device was impinging into it. [I then] drilled out and removed the failed scarred plastic device, the extensive scar and spur that had resulted, and fashioned a pocket to allow placement of a disc."

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"The entire procedure took about 2 hours was done entirely under a Zeiss microscope with only a teaspoon of blood loss and I was able to cosmetically revise her scar," Dr. Bray adds. "In the immediate post-op she's doing very well and we are very hopeful this will return her to a more functional neck reduce her pain tremendously and prevent further discs from degeneration... Melissa is a great woman who has contributed so much to so many. It's great to see her on the path to recovery. She's had a tough few years."

Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert. Eileen Connolly

Gilbert has had a long history of neck and spine issues from injuries she sustained in 2012. First, she suffered whiplash and a concussion after a fall on Dancing with the Stars, and a few months later the balcony of a house she was renting in Studio City, California, collapsed over her head.

"I am accident-prone. There's no two ways about it," the actress says. "So, it is what it is. I can tell you that my husband would love to wrap me up in bubble wrap."

"But, I've made a conscious decision not to live my life from a place of fear," she adds. "Caring, yes, and mindfulness and caution. But, I'm very conscious of not being afraid of things, so I take life as it comes, and if something goes wrong, we deal with it."

Now, Gilbert plans to spend Thanksgiving relaxing at home after returning to New York City from Los Angeles, where she had the surgery.

"It's fine for us to be eating turkey by ourselves. If it means this pain is gone, then we can stay healthy and COVID-free," she says.

And most importantly, Gilbert is looking forward to a future of movement.

"I have a grandchild coming in June," she tells PEOPLE. "I'm very excited to be able to freely travel to where they are and just snuggle that little grandbaby, and hug and kiss them, too."

"I'm a young grandma. I get to wrestle and play. So, I would like to be able to do that to my full ability," she adds.

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