I dropped off the laptop at a repair shop last week and just finally got a call back earlier today. They said that the connection between the motherboard and the network adapter has been damaged and unfortunately can't be fixed. However, they said, as did you, that a wireless USB network adapter can resolve the problem so I'm going to pick one up later tomorrow and see how I find it. If it's too much an annoyance I'll just have to buy a new laptop.
Thanks for all the help you gave me Macboatmaster! I really appreciate it thank you very much