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To examine the functional outcome and costs of a prolonged illness requiring a stay in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) of 7 of more days.The long-term benefits and costs after a prolonged SICU stay have not been well studied.All patients with an SICU length of stay of 7 or more days from July 1, 1996, to June 30, 1997, were enrolled. One hundred twenty-eight patients met the entry criteria, and mortality status was known in 127. Functional outcome was determined at baseline and at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months using the Sickness Impact Profile score, which ranges from 0 to 100, with a score of 30 being severely disabled. Hospital costs for the index admission and for all readmissions to Johns Hopkins Hospital were obtained. All data are reported as median values.For the index admission, age was 57 and APACHE II score was 23. The initial length of stay in the ICU was 11 days; the hospital length of stay was 31 days. The Sickness Impact Profile score was 20.2 at baseline, 42.9 at 1 month, 36.2 at 3 months, and 20.3 at 6 months, and was lower than baseline at 1 year. The actual 1-year survival rate was 45.3%. The index admission median cost was $85,806, with 65 total subsequent admissions to this facility. The cost for a single 1-year survivor was $282,618 (1996).An acute surgical illness that results in a prolonged SICU stay has a substantial in-hospital death rate and is costly, but the functional outcome from both a physical and physiologic standpoint is compatible with a good quality of life.