|"expresscards are not the answer. they require power from a usb port. "|
They DO NOT require power from a USB port, but they DO require that your laptop has an ExpressCard slot, which it may or may not have. The ExpressCard USB controller adapter gets it's power from contacts in the ExpressCard slot.
If it's an older laptop that has a PC Card slot, not an ExpressCard slot, you can buy PC Card (PCMCIA ) USB 2.0 controller adapters that you can plug into that slot.
In either case, in most if not all cases, the USB controller adapter can only supply a total of 500 ma of current for all the USB ports in it - it can't supply 500 ma per port. In that case, an external hard drive or an external optical drive, which require that the USB port can supply 500 ma, may ONLY work when it's the ONLY thing plugged into the ports in the adapter.
Make sure that there are no contacts inside the supposedly damaged USB ports that are touching each other or that are touching the outer metal shell of the USB port.
If you live in a reasonably large place, local places that can repair laptops can probably fix physically damaged USB ports without you having to send the laptop away somewhere. If they don't already have the same USB ports in stock, they can order them.
By the way, there can be things wrong with a laptop that cause all the built in USB ports to not work, other than they're physically damaged.
E.g. I've seen that problem when the laptop has been dropped.