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July Hero of the Month: From Baghdad’s streets to Denver’s fashion runways

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WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. -- Anger, anxiety, fear, uncertainty. There is a common thread with each of these words for Army veteran Duane Topping.  They describe his daily struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

"It really drops you into a really dark hole - you start to think you can`t get out of it," Topping told FOX 31.

Three tours in Iraq have taken their toll.

"The first patrol I went on, we were walking down the street in Baghdad, I started hearing (what sounded like) flies.  It was a sniper shooting at us," he said.

Topping tried everything.  Psychologists, medication.  Nothing seemed to help.

"I plunged into chaos, absolute chaos," he said.

But the unique treatment he finally discovered has earned him the title of FOX 31 Problem Solvers Serving Those Who Serve "Hero of the Month."

He used a needle, thread and fabric to stitch together a better life.

"First thing I did was go back to school.  And somewhere around the last semester I decided to go back to artistry. I always loved fashion," he said.

"And you know, we had sort of talked about how I could learn to sew and make clothes for my wife. And so I came home one day and said 'Listen, I'm going to teach myself how to sew,'" Topping said.

"I sat down at a TV tray with my sewing machine and I made a purse - upside down," he said.

But within four months, Duane was mastering his own designs. And soon models were sporting his fashion on the runway.

"We went to Denver Fashion Week and people loved the dress I made. So we said 'Let`s put a line together.'  And I really found my peace. That`s where I needed to be," he said.

The burly veteran doesn't exactly look like a fashion designer.

"You know it's funny, we still laugh because at the first fashion show they thought I was a doorman.  And I've been given money outside of a show because they thought I was a transient," he said.

But who better to break perceptions than a combat veteran who looks like a biker.  A rugged father of six kids who embraces femininity.

"I think that's one of my most fundamental tools is to use that contrast to really change perspective," he said.

For being named Hero of the Month, Duane gets a plaque and a $250 gift card from our sponsor, US Mortgages.

If you know a veteran, active duty service member, family member or volunteer you'd like to nominate for our August Hero of the Month, click  here.


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