While congestive heart failure has limited Melissa Justice in many ways, it also has given her the drive to help others challenged by illness.

While congestive heart failure has limited Melissa Justice in many ways, it also has given her the drive to help others challenged by illness.

Justice, of Grove City, has been nominated for a Jefferson Award for her volunteerism at Lower Lights Christian Health Center in Columbus. The 34-year-old is credited with streamlining the free and reduced prescription application process in the center's patient assistance program.

The Jefferson Awards were created in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and U.S. Sen. Robert Taft Jr. to recognize those who do extraordinary things that normally go unnoticed.

"Essentially, she completely revamped our system," said Lower Lights volunteer coordinator Josh Huff.

Huff, who nominated Justice, has seen her on a weekly basis since she started volunteering.

Seventy-five percent of the Lower Lights' patients are either uninsured or under-insured, mostly because of low income or unemployment, Huff said. Many "simply can't afford" prescription costs.

Justice has been "a tremendous help to us," Huff said.

Her own medical challenges also helped her connect with patients.

"I never knew how horrible life could get for people," Justice said. "Now that I had been through it, I wanted nothing more than to help people who are in that stage of life."

At 31, Justice saw her health suddenly deteriorate.

"I went from being perfectly fine to not being able to walk the six blocks from my office to the parking lot," she said.

Justice thought she might have had walking pneumonia. Instead, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Too sick for the heart transplant she needed, Justice was instead given an artificial heart pump. In January 2010, a heart was ready for her, but Justice never got it. The marks already were drawn on her chest for the surgery, and doctors found her heart had healed itself.

In September 2010, Justice had her artificial heart pump removed. Barred from returning to work, she looked for volunteer opportunities. She was interested in Lower Lights, she said, because of the assistance it offers to those who can't afford care.

In early fall of 2010, Justice began volunteering at Lower Lights, where she helped people apply for free medication. No one at the center had been responsible for that service on a regular basis. Since she started at Lower Lights, Justice has helped more than 1,000 people obtain free medication through drug manufacturers.

Justice is still considered to be in heart failure. She tires easily and takes heart medication. Her condition prevents her from having children and also makes adoption challenging. She still can't return to work.

Her volunteerism has given her an outlet. Justice said she enjoys working in an office setting and using her management skills to help those going through a difficult time. Although she's only at Lower Lights once or twice a week, the position carries quite a bit of responsibility.

"It's an incredibly rewarding experience," she said.

Justice and other Jefferson Award nominees will be honored during an April 5 celebration.