In the annals of the American Heart Association, the 2013-14 fiscal year may be remembered for a single item.

A rubber duck.

More specifically, the six “LifeSaver Ducks” used as reward incentives for kids who raised money through the Jump Rope For Heart and Hoops For Heart programs at their schools.

These distinct, colorful keepsakes helped the organization’s youth markets program generate the most revenue in its 35-year history, a financial feat that was among many success stories in the year that ended June 30.

“Simply put, Americans appreciate our organization, and they recognize the value that comes with supporting us,” said Bernie Dennis, who spent the year as volunteer chairman of the board, a role he will continue for a second year in 2014-15. “It is also clear that we are molding ourselves into a stronger, more impactful organization – one that is leveraging the wonderful public trust that we’ve earned.”

That was further evidenced by record totals at fundraisers across the country, donations that ensure more resources for the American Heart Association to fight the No. 1 killer of Americans (heart disease) and the No. 4 killer (stroke).

Great strides were taken in those areas, too, in 2013-14, highlighted by the release of four joint prevention guidelines and development of an innovative new research project called the Cardiovascular Genome Phenome Study, which includes two of the most well-known population studies in the nation.

The AHA also funded more than $135 million in research, including 978 new awards and 1,126 continuing awards.

“The best evidence of our commitment to science is the continuation of our status as the top funder of heart and stroke research outside the federal government,” said Mariell Jessup, M.D., professor of medicine and medical director of the University of Pennsylvania Heart and Vascular Center in Philadelphia and the AHA’s president for 2013-14.

The new prevention guidelines, which healthcare providers use to guide their patient treatment based on the latest science, were jointly released in November by the AHA and the American College of Cardiology. The guidelines  cover risk assessment, cholesterol, lifestyle and obesity.

The Cardiovascular Genome Phenome Study, also called CVGPS, builds on the strong legacies of the Framingham Heart Study and the Jackson Heart Study, and additional population studies that will be added. CVGPS will provide a deeper understanding of patients’ characteristics, such as risk profiles and therapeutic needs, and will lead to better-targeted, safer and more effective treatments in fighting diseases.

“Much as a GPS provides direction, the CVGPS will lead us to better-targeted, safer and more effective treatments in fighting common diseases such as atherosclerosis and hypertension,” Jessup said.

CVGPS is a collaboration with the AHA, Boston University, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College.

Among many other notable achievements from the past fiscal year:

  • CPR in Schools: Louisiana just became the 17th state to pass or strengthen laws requiring students to learn CPR before they graduate from high school. Gains this year ensure more than 1 million newly trained teenage lifesavers each and every year.
  • Go Red For Women: The 10th year of this movement aimed at raising awareness of the threat of heart disease in women – it claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined – was highlighted by the iconic Red Dress Collection event, a collaboration with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth.
  • Fighting Tobacco: The AHA pushed the Food and Drug Administration to release proposed regulations for electronic cigarettes, rules that had been delayed for several years.
  • Professional membership: Ranks of volunteer scientists and healthcare professionals continued to thrive, with more than 32,000 members representing 71 specialties and 110 countries. Many attended Scientific Sessions, which remains the premier gathering of cardiovascular thought.
  • Key partnerships:
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation continued to fund Voices For Healthy Kids, which aims to make the healthy choice the easy choice in places where kids live, learn and play.
  • The Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher Foundation launched the American Stroke Association-Bugher Centers of Excellence in Stroke Collaborative Research, a $9 million, four-year project features UCLA, the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Miami working together to study issues such as stroke in children, rehabilitation and recovery, neuropsychology and cognition.
  • The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust funded expansion of the Mission: Lifeline program for a fifth straight year. Mission: Lifeline supports acute cardiovascular care in high-need areas, and this year’s donations – totaling $8.8 million – funded the launch of the program in Nebraska and Montana.
  • International:
    • More than 200 hospitals in China will soon be participating in the Get With The Guidelines – Acute Coronary Syndrome program that helps ensure quality patient care. This was made possible by a $3.2 million dollar donation from Pfizer, and with the aid of the Chinese Society of Cardiology.
    • The AHA opened more than 100 new international training centers, bringing the total to more than 600 in 72 countries.

As the new fiscal year launches, Jessup is succeeded as president by Elliott Antman, M.D., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the Cardiovascular Division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“This past year was a wonderful platform for our continued success … in science, fundraising and mission,” Dennis said. “It was a year marked with remarkable accomplishments and the promise of an even more impactful future.”