Hardie Clifton, the 50-year-old professional gospel singer with a transplanted heart, will spend the holidays in a Richmond hospital because his body is showing symptoms of rejecting the transplanted organ, his wife said yesterday.

"He's distressed about spending Christmas in the hospital," said Sherry Clifton, who said she plans to stay nearby in a hotel room.

Clifton received his heart transplant in September after the White House lobbied Maryland officials to use Medicaid funds to pay for the operation. Medicaid money is not normally spent on such extraordinary and expensive procedures.

Clifton returned home Nov. 11 from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, where his was the 70th transplant operation performed since 1968. Symptoms of rejection are not unusual in transplant patients, and Clifton will receive steroid injections as part of the treatment, Sherry Clifton said.

The doctors have told Clifton he will have to spend a week in the hospital for treatment before returning home, she said.

"He's having a rejection, but he feels okay," she said from their White Oak home as the couple prepared to leave for Richmond. "With rejection, you don't know you're having one." She added, "You don't have pains" because nerves around the heart are severed during the transplant surgery.

Since his homecoming, the Cliftons have made twice-weekly trips to the Richmond facility for routine checkups. Tests this week revealed what she described as "signs of rejection," such as inflammation around the heart.

Despite the state and federal funding for Clifton, the couple and their teen-age son are still financially strapped, Sherry Clifton said.

She said the family received a Christmas card from President Reagan, but only after she called and requested one.

"There was all that [hoopla] from the White House over that Louisville guy," she said, referring to artificial heart recipient William J. Schroeder, 52, who received a congratulatory call from Reagan Dec. 12. She said she felt since she and her husband are from the local area, they deserved some presidential attention, too.