A year ago, when rapid testing for COVID-19 was in peak demand, Christopher Rienzo was providing live technical phone support for the compact, intricate machines that analyze a patient’s sample in under 12 minutes.
LumiraDX, Rienzo’s employer and developer of the machine, is a Scotland-based, point-of-care diagnostic testing company that is new to the United States.
Due to the technical nature of his position, Rienzo’s interactions required patience and the ability to communicate troubleshooting steps to front-line workers who were unfamiliar with the device. Putting himself in their shoes, Rienzo, 32, talked to them as easily as he talks about hiking, his love of dogs, and his fiance, 27-year-old Lauren Durell.
New to Portland, but not strangers, the couple moved from New Hampshire to a North Deering condo with the end goal of buying land, building a farmhouse, gardening, and keeping animals.
“I can work anywhere, but it was Lauren who insisted we just do it,” Rienzo said. “Actually, she lived in the same condo complex where we are now when she went to (the University of New England) to become a dental hygienist. She kept her eye on the Maine housing market, found the condo, and I won’t tell you how much over the asking price we paid.”
Now an adjunct professor at UNE, Durell also works in the dental clinic at the Root Cellar in Portland.
Rienzo laughed as he recalled how the two met. “Lauren had finished school and was back in New Hampshire. In fact, we lived a block from each other and didn’t even know it,” he said. “So, I went in for a dental cleaning and she was my hygienist.
“We were talking and laughing, and I thought it was weird she told me I had to come back the following Monday. Monday came and she personally greeted me at the desk, took me to the room herself, and I realized it was to get me back in there. Later, I told my dad, ‘I met this really great girl. I think she’s special,’ and we’ve been together since.”
Prior to joining the LumiraDX technical support group, Rienzo was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and did two tours of duty overseas.
“Okinawa was sometimes kind of a vacation, but Afghanistan was definitely not,” he said.
Rienzo graduated from electronics school and became an emergency medical technician, earned several medals, including the NATO Medal ISAF – Afghanistan Certificate of Appreciation.
“I was also trained in amphibious assault landing. That’s like those pictures of D-Day where you see guys going from ship to shore to ensure safety for the rest to land,” he said. “What an experience.”
Rienzo credits his father with inspiration and speaks of him with pride. “My dad was a Marine who served in Vietnam,” he said. “He’s just a great guy and while I miss him since he’s in New Hampshire, we like it here in Maine.”
LumiraDX serves its customers on a contract basis and many of the testing sites Rienzo supports are in the thousand-plus CVS Minute Clinics across the country along with major hospital groups. Listing the machine’s capabilities in more detail, Rienzo said the United States can only utilize one out of a multitude of functions it’s capable of performing.
“Our testing product was only approved by the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization during the pandemic for COVID-19 testing,” he explained. “It’s capable of a variety of complex blood tests and has useful lab functions that wouldn’t need to be sent out. In Europe, they use it for more than COVID testing. They’ll use the same type of test strips with the same machine. It would be a game-changer in the U.S., that’s for sure.”
With COVID-19 variants on the rise, Rienzo said he agrees with public health guidelines that we can relax, but must remain diligent.
“This isn’t over by any means and I don’t see much downtime in my future,” he said. “But when I do have some time, we’ll probably take a trip to New Hampshire, visit some local breweries, and just chill out.”