Melissa Gilbert Is in Recovery After a ‘Life-Altering’ Neck Surgery
Melissa Gilbert is now recovering from “life-altering” neck surgery after a previous spinal procedure failed and left her with pain for years, the Little House on the Prairie star shared on Instagram last week.
“So here’s my story. In 2016 I had my third spinal fusion surgery,” Gilbert explained in an Instagram post last month. “It was in my neck at C6-7. I found out late last year that the fusion had failed, that the hardware was boring a hole in my C7 vertebra and I would need another surgery.”
She had a consultation with another surgeon earlier this year who “agreed surgery was necessary and he felt I was a good candidate for an artificial disc instead of a fusion.” The decision would save her from needing more fusion procedures in the future, but she only had six months to get the surgery—and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gilbert wrote.
“So I waited as long as possible. I’ve now reached the point where the pain is nearly constant and the fingers on my right hand are beginning to tingle,” she wrote. Ultimately, Gilbert made the decision to fly from NYC to California to undergo the surgery in mid-November.
“Surgery was wildly successful,” Gilbert wrote in a post immediately after the procedure.
“Though I am only one week out it is clear that this surgery for me has been a life altering experience. On this Thanksgiving day though I am isolated from all of my loved ones, I am so filled with gratitude,” Gilbert wrote in an Instagram caption alongside a video explaining her surgery. She underwent a few different exploratory procedures as well as the removal of a plate on an old spinal fusion and the removal of the hardware from a failed fusion, according to the video. Gilbert also received an artificial disc in place of the failed fusion.
The spine is made up of interlocking vertebrae with discs in between them to provide cushion, SELF explained previously. Most people are born with 33 vertebrae, but by the time we’re adults we usually have 24 because some of them fuse together naturally over time. The C vertebrae that Gilbert mentions are cervical vertebrae in the neck.
A spinal fusion is a procedure in which two vertebrae are permanently connected using hardware (like metal plates or rods), which keeps them from moving, the Mayo Clinic explains. The idea is to mimic the normal bone healing process so that the vertebrae fuse together. Spinal fusions are sometimes necessary to help treat a herniated disc, spinal weakness or instability (often a result of arthritis), or conditions like scoliosis.
Spinal fusion can be an effective treatment for certain conditions, such as fractures or instability, but the procedure does come with the risk for side effects—and it doesn’t necessarily prevent more injuries or other spinal issues in the future. Disc replacement, on the other hand, is a more recently developed procedure that requires replacing a disc in the spine with an artificial one made of plastic and metal, the Mayo Clinic says. This can be an effective alternative to fusions for treating a herniated or degenerated disc, but may not be an option for everyone.
“Dr Bray was able to remove all the old hardware, shave off bone spurs causing numbness in my right hand and, and, and, he was able to give me the artificial disc!!!” Gilbert wrote. “So now I focus on recovery and remaining Covid free.”
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