Little House on the Prairie Star Melissa Gilbert Opens Up About Being Forced to Drop out of Congressional Race Over Health Concerns
Melissa Gilbert is ending her campaign for Congress in Michigan’s 8th district due to a spinal injury that will require surgery.
The 52-year-old actress who rose to fame playing Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie says she’s “devastated” that her doctors advised her to withdraw from the race.
“My doctors said there’s no way for me to continue to deal with the incredibly rigorous demands of a congressional campaign without continuing to do harm to my body,” Gilbert tells PEOPLE.
Gilbert says she is facing two herniated discs in her spine as the result of two head and neck injuries she sustained in 2012. First, she suffered whiplash and a concussion after a fall on Dancing with the Stars in April and months later the balcony of a house she was renting in Studio City, California collapsed over her head.
“I was standing under the back balcony talking to my kids and it detached from the house and it collapsed on my head,” she recalls. “I ended up with a concussion and stitches in my head and it compressed two healthy discs in my neck.”
These issues are compounded by what she calls a “long history” of neck and spine issues, beginning with a surgery to fuse a herniated disc in 2003.
Over the past four years, Gilbert says the nerve damage resulting from her injuries has become unbearable.
“I have numbness in my right hand, shooting pains in my right arm and numbness in my neck,” she says. “So, after years of care, my neurologists are sending me to a neurosurgeon because I need to have another spinal surgery.”
The surgery has not yet been scheduled and the recovery will take at least three months, making Gilbert’s dream of becoming the district’s first Democratic representative since the 1990s impossible.
“It’s indescribable to have to make this decision because I had my sights set on my opponent and a lot of people around me felt that I could win,” Gilbert says.
The actress who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild for four years adds that she won’t rule out another political run in the future.
“I’m too engaged at this point. I know too much and there is so much that needs to be done in this district and this state and this country,” she says. “That’s why I jumped into the race in the first place.”
“I will continue on this road of being of service,” she continues. “I wont know where that will take me but I’m not going to rule anything out.”