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Melissa Gilbert Credits Back Surgeon for Her 'DWTS' Try/Oscars 2012: Time for Change

Former child star Melissa Gilbert credits her back surgeon for the fact that she's become one of this coming season's contestants on "Dancing With the Stars" — and not just because he healed her broken back.

"It actually started with him, because my final day (of post-operative appointments) was the day that Jennifer Grey won. He's her surgeon too," recounts the amiable actress. "He started saying, 'Now you need to do it.' I said, 'I'm glad you think my back is healed enough so that I can do that. If I injure myself, though, you have to operate for free,' and he laughed."

You can count on the show highlighting her story of conquering tough physical challenges. As you may recall, Melissa toured the country through much of 2008 and 2009, playing Ma Ingalls in the popular stage musical version of "Little House on the Prairie." For months, she was in extreme discomfort, but somehow, she finished the tour. When she returned home and went to the doctor, she says, "I found I had broken my back. I knew the disc was herniated. I didn't know the back was actually broken. If I had, I'm sure the doctors would have said, 'Don't go.'

"After the surgery, it was a really long recovery, and I didn't get cleared to work really until February of 2011." Melissa, who has written about her past battles with alcoholism, enlisted the help of Dr. Drew Pinsky to guide her as she dealt with her intense post-surgery pain; she was concerned that she might become addicted to opiates. She would take her Dilaudid, Percocet and muscle relaxers, and then take two days away from the pills "and just tough it out."

By summer, Melissa was pain-free. And, she says, "There's nothing I can't do. I can do Pilates. I can run. I can jump. I can do yoga. I can do whatever I am asked to do." Including "Dancing With the Stars"!

There've been rumors — and tabloid stories — of her taking on the show before. Last year also saw the breakup of her 16-year marriage to Bruce Boxleitner, and, she says, "The National Enquirer wrote some ridiculous story about me healing my heart by doing 'Dancing With the Stars.' They had me studying tape of other stars who had done it — which was funny, because I was shooting my movie at the time," she says, referring to last December's Hallmark Channel movie, "The Christmas Pageant."

As for why she's taking on the show, Melissa tells us: "It's just because it seems like a real challenge for me. And you know me — if something scares me, I'm gonna do it, and this kind of scares me because I'm now part titanium."